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Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of unfair means, including detention, imprisonment, criminal and administrative charges, restrictive laws, harassment, licensing regulations, and internet restrictions.

Freedom of Expression: The government limited individuals’ ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their own actions. The law expressly prohibits insulting the first president, the sitting president, or their families, and imposes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with large fines and imprisonment for up to five years if convicted.

The media watchdog NGO Adil Soz and the Committee to Protect Journalists noted that police and authorities hindered journalists’ coverage of the January 10 parliamentary elections. Election officials allegedly denied journalists access to polling stations, expelled them from polling stations, and tried to confiscate their cell phones.

On May 28, the Ministry of Information and Social Development demanded that the independent online outlet The Village delete a news story regarding a mural in Almaty featuring a portrait of First President Nazarbayev that had been defaced with the word “cancel” spray-painted across Nazarbayev’s forehead. The ministry stated that the article dishonored Nazarbayev, which is a criminal offense. The Village disagreed with the accusation but nonetheless blurred the image of the mural on its website.

On June 15, the Auezov District Court in Almaty issued a ruling in favor of former Almaty mayor and sitting Nur Otan Party Deputy Chairman Baurzhan Baibek’s lawsuit against activist Zhanbolat Mamay and his wife Inga Imanbay. The lawsuit contended that videos Mamay posted online, allegedly detailing Baibek’s corrupt activities while serving as Almaty’s mayor, wrongly harmed Baibek’s honor, dignity, and business reputation. The court ordered that Mamay and Imanbay post public refutations of their allegations against Baibek, delete all videos containing their allegations of Baibek’s corruption, and pay court and contracted experts’ service fees.

In October unknown persons blocked the website of the independent online news outlet Hola News for 10 days until the outlet’s management removed content critical of First President Nazarbayev. The removed content reportedly was an article regarding information uncovered in the Pandora Papers regarding corruption and offshore business dealings involving members of the first president’s family and inner circle. Subsequently the owners and editor in chief of Hola News sold and resigned from the organization to protest media censorship. Government officials publicly denied blocking the site.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were severely limited. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for paid media coverage and advertising were significant problems.

Companies allegedly controlled by members of First President Nazarbayev’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several television frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Social Development distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Social Development, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 50 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign-based media broadcasting companies did not have to meet this requirement.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists and those working in opposition media or covering stories related to corruption, rallies, or demonstrations reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.

On March 2, police in Shymkent assaulted Astana TV reporter Bahrambek Talibzhanov and Channel 31 reporter Bahrom Abdullayev who came to cover a fire at the Tulpar market. On April 5, in response to this incident, journalists and their supporters protested in front of the Shymkent police station, demanding that police stop pressure and violence against journalists. The chief of police apologized for his officers’ misconduct and promised to hold them liable for abuses.

In September police in Taraz began an investigation into alleged dissemination of disinformation by two journalists and one blogger who covered the August 26 explosion at a military depot near Taraz that killed 17 service members. Video circulated online from one of the journalists showed the extent of the blast, including ordnance reportedly found in Sarykemer village, nine miles from the blast site. Police subsequently dropped the investigation and filed no charges against the journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship to avoid pressure by the government.

The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, racial, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source.

The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations, the government may censor media sources by requiring media to provide, for government approval, its print, audio, and video information 24 hours before publication or broadcasting.

Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed if they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize loudspeakers.

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and are governed by the same rules and regulations as mass media. Authorities sometimes charged bloggers and social media users with criminal law violations based on their online posts.

Libel/Slander Laws: A change in 2020 removed criminal liability for libel and slander from the law. Human rights activists and observers welcomed the decriminalization of libel but remained concerned that the law continues to impose serious punishment for conviction of libel. Several articles in the law remain that may also be applied against individuals insulting government officials, particularly First President Nazarbayev and the sitting president. Media activists raised concerns regarding the wide use of the legal provision imposing liability for dissemination of false information. The activists highlighted its use to pressure or silence journalists and civil society activists, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law includes penalties for conviction of defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists believed these provisions strengthened the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

In February, three bloggers in Mangistau Region – Sholpan Utekeyeva, Ulbosyn Turdiyeva, and Aigul Akberdy – were found guilty of libel against the head of the local police, Colonel Boken Zhumagali. The libel cases were in response to the bloggers’ social media reposts that alleged Zhumagali unlawfully repressed Merey Korbakov, a civic activist from the village of Beineu. Two bloggers received 20-day administrative arrests and two received small fines (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression).

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the first president, as well as specific economic information such as data on mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the first president, the president, and their families.

The government intimidated media outlets that criticized the president, the first president, and their families; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions had a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” was overly broad. The law requires owners of communication networks and other service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites discord.” International legal experts noted these terms are not clearly defined.

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR’s contracted local partners may, if needed, appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation.

According to UNHCR, the refugee system falls short of the international standard regarding access to asylum procedures and access to the country’s territory. Authorities remained reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lacked valid identity documents, citing security concerns. Contrary to commitments under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a person who crosses the border illegally to escape persecution may be prosecuted for this in criminal court, and subsequently may be viewed as a person with criminal potential, a negative factor in the asylum decision.

According to UNHCR data, as of September 1, there were 242 asylum seekers in the country, most from Afghanistan. There were 401 recognized refugees in the country and 7,915 stateless persons. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably compared with prior years.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) cases.

Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other.

In October the government renewed the one-year asylum status for all four ethnic-Kazakh persons from China (see Abuse of Migrants and Refugees below).

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: On January 21, asylees Murager Alimuly and Kaisha Khan from Xinjiang, China, separately suffered attacks by unknown assailants in the Nur-Sultan and Almaty areas. At year’s end the attacks were still under investigation by authorities, with no reported suspects. Alimuly and Khan were two of the four ethnic Kazakhs who fled China and received asylum in October 2020.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work but may not engage in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights, with the result that most refugees worked on the informal economy.

Access to Basic Services: Status as “temporarily residing aliens” hindered refugees’ access to the full range of rights stipulated in the law. The law lacks provisions on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees had access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but they had no access to social benefits or allowances. The government did not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial assistance.

In August the country changed its regulations on access to health services. Starting August 15, stateless persons, asylum seekers, and foreigners who are temporarily staying as labor migrants or for other purposes must sign contracts for voluntary health insurance and register with a local clinic to be eligible for primary health services.

The constitution and law provide procedures to deal with stateless persons, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. The law does not provide for a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons.

The country contributes to statelessness because its application for citizenship requires renunciation of citizenship of the country of origin, with no stipulation that Kazakhstani citizenship would be granted. As of September a total of 7,915 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless, according to UNHCR. Most individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness, are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

The law allows the government to deprive individuals of citizenship if convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR and the government, no one has been deprived of citizenship under this law. Instead, during the year the government brought back to the country 12 citizens and their families who had joined international terrorist organizations. The government prosecuted the citizens in criminal court as terrorists but provided social services to their family members.

According to UNHCR, the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons was documented, and they were considered as having permanent residency, which was granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals.

A separate legal procedure for citizenship exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years.

The law prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, the lack of which hindered the children’s access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

Persons whose citizenship applications are rejected or whose status as stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.

Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, although not with the government. They may face problems when negotiating labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.

UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes sexual abuse and rape, and imposes penalties up to eight years of imprisonment, or life imprisonment if the crime was committed against a minor. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases. According to human rights defenders, fewer than 1 percent of rape complaints made it to court.

On February 9, a court in Almaty sentenced both a former prosecutor and a former manager of a local bank to eight years of imprisonment for committing a rape in 2019. Police initially refused to record the complaint when the victim first reported the crime but later officially registered the case due to her lawyer’s persistence. Police resistance, procrastination, attempts to hush up the complainant, and other hurdles delayed the investigation. The victim faced pressure and intimidation from the assailants’ relatives who tried to force her to withdraw the complaint.

On August 10, a court in Almaty convicted former KNB captain Sabyrzhan Narynbayev for attempted rape and sentenced him to eight years of imprisonment. In September 2020 Narynbayev gave a ride to Aiya Umurzakova and on the way to her village he assaulted and beat her, tried to rape her, and threatened her life. Lawyers persuaded her to file a complaint with police. Before and during the court proceedings, Umurzakova reported pressure and threats from the assailant and his family and attempts to persuade her to drop the case by offering money. A fraud case was launched against her for allegedly taking money from the defendant to withdraw her complaint but afterwards refusing to do so. The court found Umurzakova not guilty of fraud.

NGOs estimated that more than 400 women died annually from spousal violence. The law specifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. It outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in supporting victims of domestic violence. The law has mechanisms for issuing restraining orders and provides for administrative detention of alleged abusers for 24 hours. The law sets the maximum sentence for conviction of spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for assault. The law permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the offender has alternatives. It allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence. The law replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if having the perpetrator pay fines damages the victim’s interests.

Research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that most victims of partner abuse never tell anyone of their abuse, due in part to social stigma. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile. NGOs also noted that the lenient penalty for conviction of domestic violence – an administrative offense with a maximum sentence of 15 days’ imprisonment – did not deter even previously convicted offenders.

Police reported that the number of domestic violence offenses decreased 8 percent following a significant increase in 2020. The law was changed to shift the responsibility to police for collecting evidence for these offenses; previously it was the responsibility of victims. Penalties were increased and reconciliation procedures were reformed.

The government maintained domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 49 crisis centers, 39 of which had shelters.

Activists criticized the government for failing to ensure that all persons in vulnerable situations were protected against domestic violence. Even when victims reported violence, activists stated police were reluctant to act. Police sometimes did not issue restraining orders to assailants and tried to dissuade the victim from filing a complaint, creating an environment of impunity for aggressors. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reforms included a formal training for police and judges on domestic violence and a repeat-offender plan that increased the use of restraining orders and expanded penalties to include imprisonment.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of seven to 12 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; consequently, a typical bride-kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to resolve their situations themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very complex process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only the use of force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness during sexual assault carries criminal liability. There were no reports of any prosecutions. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace were hesitant to file complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports of educational problems related to women’s reproductive health and hygiene. Access to government-provided sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors was limited. Women were able to access emergency contraception as part of clinical rape management, but most women privately procured such treatment at their own expense to avoid state-run clinics’ bureaucratic examination requirements.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but discrimination remained a problem. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited opportunities for education and employment, limited access to information, and discrimination in land rights and property rights.

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. Ethnic minorities, however, faced problems in various areas of life. Only three of the 23 cabinet members were not ethnic Kazakhs. Ethnic minorities were underrepresented in other government bodies as well. Human rights observers noted that ethnic minorities were not incorporated into the country’s social and political mechanisms and their role was shrinking. Observers also noted that the government should – but did not – provide minorities equal participation in social life, equal access to government service, equal business opportunities, and most importantly, equal treatment before the law.

Trials continued in response to the February 2020 riots between ethnic Kazakh and ethnic Dungan residents in Qorday Province. On April 27, 51 persons were tried and charged with incitement to mass riots, extortion, robbery, murder, encroachment on the life of law enforcement officers, and “illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation, carrying weapons, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices.” Some 60 lawyers took part in the defense. The court convicted 19 individuals convicted of more serious charges and sentenced them to prison terms from five to 20 years. The court convicted 31 individuals of lesser charges and sentenced them to one year to five years’ imprisonment, but the sentences were suspended because they paid compensation for damages. One of the suspects was acquitted for lack of evidence.

In August 2020 the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed information concerning the Qorday incident and requested that the government provide a response before October 2020 in order to: “conduct [an] effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the events”; ensure effective protection of the Dungan minority; provide reparation, including health and psychological support; and provide access by independent observers to the Qorday District. On April 30, the UN committee chair again requested a response. By year’s end there was no publicly released response from the government.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper documentation, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers without legal status or identification were denied birth certificates.

Education: Some children from migrant families, particularly undocumented migrants and stateless persons, could not enroll in school due to their lack of legal status.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. According to a survey, 40 percent of children in institutions and 18 percent of children attending regular schools stated they were subjected to physical abuse by adults. Children frequently faced abusive, cruel, and disparaging treatment in families, schools (particularly special schools for delinquent children), and boarding schools. The law provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but it may be reduced to 16 in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement, including by parents or legal guardians. According to the UN Population Fund, approximately 3,000 early and forced marriages occurred annually. Many couples first married in mosques and then registered officially when the bride reached the legal age. The government did not take action to address the problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex. UNICEF reported that data on sexual abuse of children, child prostitution, child pornography, child trafficking, bride kidnapping, and forced marriage of girls remained scarce, making it difficult to assess the scale of rights violations.

The law criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country also retains administrative penalties for child pornography in addition to the criminal penalties. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors received a lifetime ban on working with children.

Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted there were many street children, mainly in large cities. Street children were referred to centers for delinquent children or support centers for children in difficult life situations. Some were returned to their families. According to the 2019 Report of the Committee for Protection of Children Rights of the Ministry of Education and Science, there were 15 “adaptation” centers for delinquent children and 17 support centers for children in difficult life situations. More than 4,000 children were held in the adaptation centers, and more than 2,000 in the support centers.

Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages and other institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Ministry of Education’s Committee for Protection of Children Rights, the number of orphans in orphanages decreased from 6,223 in 2017 to 4,606 by the end of 2020. The government continued its policy of closing orphanages and referring children to foster families and other forms of home care. Activists criticized the policy as lacking a clear plan for children’s deinstitutionalization, properly trained staff, infrastructure, and funds. Activists alleged that authorities focused on the closure of orphanages instead of working with families to prevent the placement of children in institutions. Activists also stated critical decisions on the removal of a child from its family and placement in an institution were based on police reports, not social workers’ reports.

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.

Leaders of the Jewish community estimated that the country’s Jewish population was 10,000 persons. They reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination occurred. Human rights defenders were concerned regarding gaps in the country’s legislation. The law does not give a clear definition of discrimination, making it impossible to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly in instances of indirect discrimination. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was poor. NGOs also noted ineffective implementation of some government disability programs, sometimes marred by corruption and a lack of trained staff.

Employment for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Activists noted that employers did not have sufficient incentives to hire persons with disabilities.

The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities; nevertheless, civil society reported that persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment.

Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children. The management of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.

There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers stated this situation led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed persons younger than age 18 with the permission of their families.

Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions. According to an NPM report, most mental hospitals required extensive renovations. Other observed problems included a shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and fresh air.

Education authorities reported that 55 percent of schools were equipped and staffed for inclusive education of children with specific needs. Independent observers alleged that the actual number of such schools was in fact lower. There were no statistics on the number of children with disabilities who attended preschool institutions. Of children with specific needs between ages seven and 18, 20% attended regular schools. The majority attended special education classes or were homeschooled. Some parents refused to send children with disabilities to school and viewed their education as unnecessary. Some children with Down syndrome were able to attend privately funded specialized education centers, but the centers had limited capacity, which resulted in waiting periods of up to a year and one-half.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, but stigma remained and resulted in societal discrimination that continued to affect access to information, services, treatment, and care. The National Center for AIDS provided free diagnosis and treatment to all citizens.

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

There were reports of anti-LGBTQI+ violence, but there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults. Activists reported that beating, extortion, and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals were not uncommon, although typically unreported.

Prosecutions of anti-LGBTQI+ violence were rare. NGOs reported members of the LGBTQI+ community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and further violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially regarding employment.

On May 29 and July 29, training events related to LGBTQI+ rights conducted by the NGO Feminita were disrupted by aggressive groups of men in Shymkent and Karaganda, respectively. In both cases police removed the activists from their rented private meeting space, ostensibly to protect them from further violence. Feminita posted a video on social media of police pulling one Feminita member by the hair into an unmarked police car in Skymkent. In both cases Feminita activists reported that police treated them not as victims but as criminal suspects. No members of the mob that disrupted the training sessions were arrested or charged in either city.

Human rights activists reported that the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTQI+ communities negatively. At home more often due to public health restrictions, LGBTQI+ persons often endured stress and abuse from family members who disapproved of their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts. Due to their lack of appropriate documentation and contracts, transgender persons were often not eligible for relief programs offered by the government to support needy individuals.

Although a process for gender reassignment exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements (such as undergoing gender reassignment surgery) before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care. The law includes behavioral disorders as reasons for denial of gender reassignment, which expanded the categories of persons who could be denied such treatments.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for workers’ rights to form and join unions, but it imposes restrictions, such as a requirement that registered unions be represented in at least half of the country’s regions.

The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent ones. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK) is the largest national trade union association, with approximately 90 percent of union members on its rolls. In 2018 the International Trade Union Confederation suspended the membership of the FTUK due to a lack of independence.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and a court may order reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. Penalties for breaking these provisions include fines and imprisonment of up to 75 days, commensurate with penalties of other laws involving denials of civil rights. According to the FTUK, as of January, 15,915 companies had collective bargaining agreements; 1.5 million workers, or 90.2 percent of FTUK members, labored with collective bargaining agreements in 2020. The number of collective agreements countrywide increased 19.1 percent from 120,200 in 2019 to 143,571 in 2020, the latest available data.

The country’s three national-level labor unions include the FTUK, with more than 1.6 million members, Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (Amanat) with 300,000 members, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) with up to 800,000 members. On February 5, the Specialized Interdistrict Economic Court in Shymkent suspended the independent Fuel and Energy Workers Union for six months after finding the union’s original registration was “improper,” as it did not have representation in at least half of the country’s regions. The union remained unregistered as of the end of the year. The geographical representation requirement often prevented the registration and operation of independent unions.

The law provides in principle for the right to strike but imposes onerous restrictions that make strikes unlikely. By law there is a variety of circumstances in which strikes are illegal. Workers may not strike unless a labor dispute is unresolvable through compulsory arbitration procedures. Decisions to strike must be taken in a meeting where at least one-half of an enterprise’s workers are present. A written notice announcing a strike must be submitted to the employer at least five days in advance.

In June, Amanat chairman Andrey Prigor reported that all strikes tend to be spontaneous because a reconciliation commission may take months to initiate the strike in accordance with the law. The extensive legal requirements and delays gave employers time to pressure or even fire activists.

A blanket legal restriction bars certain occupations from conducting a strike. Military and other security service members, emergency medical, fire, and rescue crews, as well as those who operate “dangerous” production facilities are forbidden to strike. By law such strikes are illegal. Workers employed in railways, transport, communications, civil aviation, health care, and public utilities may strike if they maintain minimum services to the public. Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal. The government may file criminal charges against labor organizers for calls to participate in strikes declared illegal by the court. Officials are suspected of inflicting violence in response to supposedly unlawful attempts to associate.

Disagreements between unions and their employers must be presented to a tripartite commission for arbitration if the disagreement cannot be settled between the employer and the union. The commission is composed of representatives of the government, labor unions, and employer associations. State-affiliated and independent labor unions participate in tripartite commissions. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual collective agreements governing most aspects of labor relations.

In May 2020 the FTUK, Amanat, and KCL established a working group to draft the general agreement for labor relations for 2021-23. They recommended that the government and employers increase the minimum wage, change the minimum subsistence allowance, establish a minimum basket of consumer goods, and negotiate on other social matters.

Foreign workers have the right to join unions, but the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and the financing of unions by foreign entities such as foreign citizens, governments, and international organizations. Irregular migrants and self-employed individuals residing in the country were not exempt from the laws regulating union participation.

Restrictions on independent unions, government interference in union affairs, and gaps in the law demonstrated a lack of respect for freedom of association.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except when it is a consequence of a court sentence or a condition of a state of emergency or martial law. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The law provides for the punishment of convicted traffickers and those who facilitated forced exploitation and trafficking, including labor recruiters who hired workers through deliberately fraudulent or deceptive offers with the intent to subject workers to forced labor, and employers or labor agents who confiscated passports or travel documents to keep workers in a state of involuntary servitude. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for regulating migrant labor. The ministry verifies employer compliance by conducting checks of employers to reveal labor law violations, including provisions related to exploitation of foreign workers. Labor inspectors report suspected trafficking or forced labor to the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the local police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for formally identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings against perpetrators.

In 2019 the president signed a revised moratorium on government inspections for 2020-23 that reduced previous restrictions on labor inspectors. The moratorium allows inspections of medium and large businesses. In addition inspectors’ job descriptions include the responsibility for reporting potential labor trafficking cases to law enforcement agencies. Indicators for the identification of forced labor are part of their inspectors’ checklists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for handling migrant labor. Compared with previous years, the Ministry of Internal Affairs generally enforced laws to identify foreign and domestic victims of labor trafficking. Authorities identified 17 foreign victims in 2020, compared with three victims in 2019. Police conducted interagency operations to find victims of forced labor. Identification of forced labor victims increased from 40 victims identified in 2019 to 88 victims identified in 2020, of whom 67 were victims of sexual exploitation, and 21 were victims of labor exploitation, including four domestic and 17 foreign victims.

In 2020 police investigated 72 criminal cases of human trafficking, and courts convicted 11 traffickers, including eight for sexual exploitation and three for labor trafficking crimes, marking the first time in three years the government obtained forced labor convictions. During the first nine months of the year, police opened 31 criminal cases, including six trafficking-in-persons cases, 11 trafficking-in-minors cases, one case of kidnapping for the purpose of exploitation, three cases of illegal deprivation of freedom for the purpose of exploitation, four cases of engagement of minors into prostitution, and six cases of engagement of a person into prostitution.

Migrant workers were considered most at risk for forced or compulsory labor. According to the International Organization for Migration, on average 1.2 million migrant laborers register in the country every year, including seasonal workers. In 2019, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1.6 million persons were registered as migrants in the country. The majority of migrant workers came from Uzbekistan, with lesser numbers from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Migrant workers worked primarily in agriculture and construction. Some migrant workers suffered difficult working conditions, with long hours and withheld wages.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the government assisted migrants in maintaining their legal status and in returning to their home countries. The government coordinated with the governments of the other Central Asian countries and local NGOs to open border crossings and facilitate the safe return of labor migrants to their home countries, including those transiting from Russia.

In 2020 parliament ratified the Agreement Between the Governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Employment and Protection of Migrant Worker Nationals of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan and Protection of Migrant Worker Nationals of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan. The agreement strengthens regulation of migration flows and efforts to prevent forced labor by facilitating migrants’ access to government services and providing for mutual recognition of educational qualifications.

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

The minimum age for employment is 16. With parental permission, however, children ages 14 through 16 may perform light work that does not interfere with their health or education. The law prohibits minors from engaging in hazardous work and restricts the length of the workday for employees younger than 18.

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor; however, gaps existed in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor. Prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor are prosecuted as criminal offenses. Conviction of crimes involving the worst forms of child labor, such as violations of the minimum age employment in hazardous work, engaging minors in pornographic shows or production of materials containing pornographic images of minors, coercion of minors into commercial sexual exploitation, kidnapping or illegal deprivation of the freedom of a minor for the purpose of exploitation, and trafficking in minors, are punishable by penalties that are commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating criminal offenses and training criminal police in investigating the worst forms of child labor.

The law provides noncriminal punishments for violations that do not include the worst forms of child labor, including written warnings, suspensions, terminations, the withdrawal of licenses for specific types of activities, administrative penalties or fines, and administrative arrest (only by court decision and only up to 15 days for violation of legislation in relation to minors). Such violations include employment of minors without an employment agreement, which is punishable by fine and suspension of the employer’s license. Untimely or incorrect payment of salaries, failing to provide vacation or time off, excessive work hours, and discrimination in the workplace are also punishable by fines. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection was responsible for enforcement of child labor law and for administrative offenses punishable by fines.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Instances of work by children below the country’s minimum age of employment were reported in agriculture, including producing vegetables, weeding, and collecting worms; in construction; in the markets and streets, including transporting and selling items; in domestic work; in gas stations, car washing, and working as bus conductors; or as waiters in restaurants. These forms of labor were determined by local legislation to be potentially hazardous and were categorized as the worst forms of child labor. The majority of such situations occurred on family farms or in family businesses.

In the first six months of the year, police identified 11 cases of trafficking in minors and four cases of engagement of minors into commercial sexual exploitation.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. Transgender individuals are effectively barred from working in law enforcement or serving in the military. The law prohibits persons with specific, listed medical conditions or diseases from working in law enforcement agencies or serving in the military.

The government did not effectively enforce the law and regulations on discrimination. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation. Most discrimination violations are an administrative offense punishable by a fine that is not commensurate with those for similar violations. Cases such as illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority status are considered criminal offenses and are punishable by penalties that are commensurate with violations related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, transgender persons, orphans, and former convicts. Transgender persons experienced workplace discrimination and were repeatedly fired for their gender identity. Disability NGOs reported that obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men.

On October 12, the president signed into law amendments that removed prohibitions on women from performing work in difficult, harmful, and hazardous working conditions. The list previously had prohibited women from working in 213 professions and jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national monthly minimum wage was above the poverty line. Every region estimated its own poverty line. The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours. It limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50 percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and any overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker. By law employees are entitled to 24 days of paid annual leave per year.

During the summer multiple strikes took place in the oil services sector in Mangystau Region regarding wage discrepancies among direct employees of oil companies, prime contractors, and subcontractors. The strikes followed changes made in December 2020 to the contract of the state-owned oil company KazMunaiGaz that stated contracted employees’ wages should not be lower than the wages of the host company’s employees with similar job responsibilities and qualifications. In September, KazMunaiGaz CEO Alike Aidarbayev stated subcontractors misinterpreted the changes, which do not apply to all subcontracted companies.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to the main industries. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers of any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. Occupational safety and health standards were set and conditions were inspected by government experts. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action. In June the government approved the Occupational Health and Safety Action Plan, effective until 2025. The plan aims to achieve a 10 percent reduction of industrial injuries and a 20 percent decrease in the number of workers laboring in hazardous conditions.

In some regions doctors complained of a shortage of medical equipment, test kits, and health specialists in rural hospitals. A doctor from Jambyl Province reportedly stated she was the only infectious disease specialist on hand to deal with COVID-19 patients at the main hospital in the Merki District, which has an estimated 85,000 inhabitants.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforced standards for minimum wages, workhour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health. By law labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification, except in cases where the inspection is conducted based on a request from law enforcement authorities or a complaint related to certain extreme health and safety hazards. From January to June, inspectors conducted 1,900 inspections and detected 3,000 violations of the law. An FTUK analysis concluded that violations centered on wage arrears or delays, illegal or forced layoffs, labor safety, violations of collective agreements, unequal payments, work conditions of local and foreign workers, and incorrect indexation of wages. The absence of local labor unions contributed to some of these violations.

The law provides for so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for three years. In the opinion of labor rights activists, the practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems.

By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety problems between representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to assign technical labor inspectors to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions, and their resolutions are mandatory for both employers and employees. In April there were 15,575 production councils and 17,595 volunteer labor inspectors, according to the government.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Violations of law are considered administrative offenses, not criminal ones, and penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime law were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud. For example a minimal punishment for conviction of fraud is a substantial fine or imprisonment for up to two years, while violations of wage or overtime payment provisions result in fines. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety law were also not commensurate with crimes such as negligence. There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety.

Regarding workplace injuries, 520 workers in the processing sector were injured, 349 employees in mining were injured, and 229 workers in the construction sector sustained injuries. The highest number of fatalities – 54 workers – was recorded in the construction sector, followed by 39 fatalities in the processing sector and 24 fatalities in mining. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. Experts also cited low qualifications of workers, a deficit of qualified safety engineers, and corruption in the companies as other leading reasons for occupational accidents. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection reported that in 2020, 23 percent of employees worked in hazardous conditions.

According to the FTUK, in 78 percent of fatal accidents in 2020, employers were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations. Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Companies may refuse to compensate workers for nonfatal industrial injuries if the worker did not comply with labor safety requirements.

In August the Karaganda Labor Inspection Department found liable the management of steel producer ArcelorMittal Temirtau (AMT) for a May 26 accident in which two crane operators sustained severe burns after a cast iron ladle fell during crane lifting operations, spilling its contents onto the two operators. The Karaganda Labor Inspection Department assigned 100 percent of the blame for the accident to AMT for unsatisfactory organization of labor and use of broken equipment.

Informal Sector: The government reported in 2020 that 1.22 million citizens of the country’s workforce of nine million persons worked in the informal economy. Government statistics defined the informally employed as those who were not registered as either employed or unemployed. The government also categorized those individuals who were self-paid or self-employed as working in the informal economy. A Ministry of Finance spokesperson separately reported during the year that up to one-third of workers were engaged in the informal sector. Informal workers were concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry-cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part worked without health, social, or pension benefits, and did not pay into the social security system.

Moldova

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such discussion poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order, or safety. Nonetheless, there were reports that authorities did not always respect freedom of expression for the press. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press and other media.

A United Nations study released in August on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights in the country stated that although national legislation on access to information and freedom of expression is largely in line with international standards, effective implementation of the law has been problematic. The report specifically pointed to government misuse of privacy exemptions to withhold information requested by journalists.

On August 12, media NGOs in the country issued a declaration calling on the new government led by Natalia Gavrilita to ensure the transparency of public institutions and provide access to information of public interest to journalists.

Freedom of Expression: In Transnistria freedom of speech continued to be repressed. De facto “authorities” continued to carry out a 2020-2026 Strategy for Combating Extremism that provides “authorities” additional tools to silence dissent and further repress freedom of expression, complementing the existing 2007 “law” on fighting extremism activities. Several individuals faced charges pursuant to the “anti-extremism law” for publicly criticizing de facto “authorities” during the year.

According to the human rights NGO Apriori, in November 2020, Transnistrian “authorities” accused Transnistria resident Pavel Dogari of extremist actions for expressing his opinion that the presence of Russian troops was not a positive development for the separatist region. Reportedly, an investigation into charges of extremism was ongoing, but Dogari was not given access to the alleged evidence against him. By June Dogari had fled Transnistria and reportedly requested political asylum in Germany.

On July 20, 70-year-old Mihail Ermurachi was found guilty by a Transnistrian “court” of “offending the Transnistrian leader” and fined 9,200 Transnistrian rubles ($550) for a recorded private conversation in 2019 in which he “insulted” Transnistrian leader Krasnoselskiy. Ermurachi was originally charged with extremism, but those charges were dropped and Ermurachi ordered to pay a fine.

Others such as Oleg Horjan and Serghei Mirovici (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees) were sentenced to prison for criticizing “authorities” by “insulting a public official,” an act that is prohibited under the region’s “criminal code.” As of December, Horjan remained imprisoned, while Mirovici was pardoned on December 29 after admitting his “guilt.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to media outlets, NGOs, and international monitors, independent media were active and expressed a plurality of views but were often marginalized by larger outlets owned or controlled by a few politicians and oligarchs. Large media outlets pressured smaller outlets, including by colluding to prevent advertisers from buying advertising space from those smaller outlets. Internal and external propaganda and manipulation, concentration of ownership of mass media in the hands of few politicians and oligarchs, unfair competition within the television advertising market, and limited independence of the broadcasting regulatory authority, the Audiovisual Council, were among the major problems that restricted independent media space. Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from outlets they owned or controlled. Russian news channels rebroadcast in the country continued to disseminate propaganda and presented distorted information on regional and international events. Channels rebroadcasting Russian content continued to dominate the media market by creating advertising cartels, which limited the revenues for smaller outlets.

Independent media NGOs and watchdogs accused the Audiovisual Council and the public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova, of progovernment bias. The NGOs also noted the government discriminated against media outlets that were not affiliated with then President Dodon or the Socialist Party during Dodon’s presidency by refusing them access to senior officials for interviews. On November 4, the new parliamentary majority amended the Code of Audiovisual Media Services to allow parliament to directly appoint and fire the top management of Teleradio Moldova, taking this responsibility from the Audiovisual Council. The amendments also provide for the dismissal of the Audiovisual Council board if parliament rejects its yearly report. Media watchdogs criticized the amendments, noting that they could increase political control over the public broadcaster and the Audiovisual Council.

On November 11, parliament rejected the Audiovisual Council’s yearly activity report and fired all its members in accordance with the Code of Audiovisual Media Services as amended the previous week. Local media watchdogs issued a joint statement asserting that the council’s ineffectiveness was not caused by the difficulty in removing politicized members, but by the politicized appointment criteria. The statement said the amendments did not address the main problem of the council, politicization.

Freedom of expression for members of the press and other media, including online media, is restricted during election seasons. Media regulations approved by the Central Electoral Commission provide for equal access to the media and fair coverage of all the electoral competitors, but monitoring reports showed that not all media outlets followed the regulation. International observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights ODIHR) and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) as well as the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and media NGOs noted that the Audiovisual Council was ineffective during the early parliamentary elections and failed to sanction all the television channels that it listed in its first monitoring report as violating the law. The observers noted that, in its first report, the Audiovisual Council found that four television stations – Primul in Moldova, NTV Moldova, TV6, and 10TV – committed violations during the election campaign. Of these the council sanctioned only 10TV. International observers noted that the Audiovisual Council was not perceived as politically independent and did not enjoy public confidence. After its second monitoring report, the council subsequently sanctioned six television channels for breaching the law.

In a January 27 decision, the Supreme Court of Justice rejected a request by the Audiovisual Council to reverse a lower court decision annulling the fine that the council imposed on TV8 in 2020. TV8 had challenged the council’s ruling in court, asserting it was “an attack on freedom of expression.” In October 2020 the Audiovisual Council fined TV8 7,000 lei ($400) for “not ensuring impartiality” during the talk show Natalia Moraris Politics, claiming that the show failed to uphold impartiality and balance of opinion when one of the guests on the show, lawyer Ștefan Gligor, said there were risks of election fraud in the November 2020 presidential election. In October 2020 the Chisinau Court of Appeal struck down the council’s fine and ruled that TV8 did not violate the requirement for balance of opinion. In November 2020 the Supreme Court of Justice affirmed the court of appeal ruling cancelling the fine.

Media freedom in breakaway Transnistria remained a concern. During the year, Freedom House again assessed the region’s media as “not free.” Transnistrian television channels and radio stations are regulated by the “state media service” and “state telecommunications service.” The “state media service” oversees “state-run” media and “state” policy in the information sector.

Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: the “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled “official” news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels, and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.”

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of government and political leaders restricting the media’s ability to cover events. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Female journalists in particular were subjected to intimidation.

In one example in February, journalist Alexandra Batanova from the Newsmaker outlet was subjected to pressure after she published an article on a criminal case against two police officers. The officers filed a complaint with police, asking that Batalova be sued for libel. The chief of the police section that received the complaint came in person to Newsmakers office to inform Batalova of the case against her. Batalova, who was not in the office at the time, asked for the complaint to be sent to her through official channels. Media NGOs issued a joint statement calling the officer’s decision to personally come to Newsmakers office abusive and an attempt to intimidate the press.

There were also reports of local government officials intimidating and threatening journalists in response to their reporting. For example on February 8, Chirsova mayor Serghei Sapunji sent journalist Mihail Sirkeli threatening messages following his February 5 broadcast of the Nokta Live talk show, in which Sirkeli commented on a conflict at the Kirsovo village mayor’s office involving Sapunji, his son, and some inhabitants of Kirsovo and Vulcanesti. Media NGOs condemned Sapunji’s actions and asked the Gagauzia Prosecutor’s Office to initiate a criminal case against Sapunji for using his official position to intimidate critics.

On November 18, media NGOs issued a statement expressing concern regarding the verbal attacks and threats from Nicolai Chirilciuc, a candidate for mayor in Balti, against journalist Veaceslav Perunov, the editor and owner of the Spros i Predlojenia newspaper and news portal. Chirilciuc, unhappy with the questions addressed to him during an election debate, called Perunov to complain. Chirilciuc threatened Perunov and insisted that Spros i Predlojenia should be loyal to him because he paid the outlets for election ads.

Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets, many of whom are politicians or oligarchs connected to political parties.

Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information. In addition, investigating journalists complained of problems accessing websites of legal entities. In Transnistria journalists similarly practiced self-censorship and avoided criticizing de facto “authorities,” the separatists’ goal of independence, their “foreign policy,” or anything that would be deemed “extremist” under the 2020-2026 Strategy for Combating Extremism in order to avoid “official” reprisals (see section i.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, and Freedom of Expression in this subsection).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses punishable by a fine, community service, being barred from holding certain public offices for a period of months, or a combination of these punishments. Defamation is not a crime, but individuals and organizations can be sued civilly for defamation. Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial topics due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use slander, libel, or defamation accusations to retaliate against critical news reports.

There were also reports of government officials initiating lawsuits against media outlets for their investigative reporting into corruption allegations and the officials’ personal assets. For example in January 2020, Deputy Prosecutor General Ruslan Popov filed a defamation lawsuit against the Center for Investigative Journalism in response to two investigative reports implicating him in corruption. As of November the case was still pending.

On October 6, during the seventh hearing into the defamation lawsuit against the Ziarul de Garda newspaper by former president Dodon, the Chisinau Court decided to close the case because neither Dodon nor his lawyer attended the hearings without explaining their absence. In May 2020 the Ziarul de Garda newspaper was targeted in a defamation lawsuit by then-president Dodon in response to an investigation revealing his wealth and assets.

The “law” in Transnistria criminalizes public insults of the region’s “leader,” which may be punished by a fine or up to five years in prison. (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, and Freedom of Expression in this section).

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The government did, however, impose restrictions on public gatherings during the public health state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. During the year, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government lifted foreign travel restrictions and reopened borders to vaccinated travelers or those with a valid negative COVID test.

In Transnistria “authorities” continued to restrict travel to and from the region.

In-country movement: Transnistrian “authorities” resumed allowing normal crossing through their checkpoints in May after they had closed them for more than a year on the pretext of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration and some COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The law requires individuals to settle all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities before emigrating. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.

The law does not define the concept of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and authorities do not report any official data on IDPs as such. NGOs such as Promo-LEX and a 2004 Norwegian Refugee Council report estimated that approximately 130,000 persons were displaced by the 1992 conflict in Transnistria, with approximately 51,000 of them residing in government-controlled territory. IDPs may include victims of forced displacement by Transnistrian “authorities,” former combatants, and persons who left the region for political reasons.

Transnistrian “authorities” continued to deny Moldovan veterans of the 1992 Transnistria conflict access to the region.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The process for obtaining formal refugee status was slow but conducted in line with international and European standards. Authorities issued refugees identity cards valid indefinitely; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR continued to provide financial support to refugees. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the government restarted deportations of asylum seekers whose asylum claims were rejected by the Migration and Asylum Bureau. The law does not allow unemployed asylum seekers to purchase state health insurance, but asylum seekers still had access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country has a policy of presumptive denial of asylum seekers displaced from eastern Ukraine by the armed conflict there. The country previously accepted Ukrainian asylum seekers but determined that Ukraine’s process for protecting and resettling IDPs was sufficient. Most displaced Ukrainians preferred to transit Moldova, then seek asylum in the EU.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 216 persons registered in the national asylum system as of July.

According to UNHCR, there were 1,471 persons registered as stateless in the country, a majority of whom resided in Transnistria. According to immigration law experts, most stateless persons fell into one of two categories: 1) former citizens of the Soviet Union residing in Moldova who are ineligible for Moldovan citizenship and do not hold another country’s citizenship, and 2) Moldovan citizens who renounced their citizenship to acquire another citizenship and have not notified Moldovan authorities of any subsequent acquisition of citizenship. Experts assessed that most persons in the second category, especially Transnistria residents, are not actually stateless, and most have acquired Russian citizenship or another nationality. There were 7,063 Moldovan citizens who did not possess any valid documentation of their citizenship, but they had Soviet passports endorsed by the Moldovan Public Services Agency, which served as a prima facie proof of citizenship. There were an additional 1,901 persons of indeterminate citizenship status.

Stateless persons and refugees may gain citizenship through naturalization. The law allows a refugee or stateless person who has resided legally in the country for eight years to seek citizenship. The family reunion process for naturalized refugees was burdensome. The government issued residence permits for a period of up to one year to stateless persons temporarily residing in the country at a cost ranging from approximately 400 to 1,280 lei ($23.40 to $75) depending on the speed of service, with higher prices for expedited processing. Trafficking victims received residence permits free of charge.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines domestic violence as a criminal offense, provides for the punishment of perpetrators, defines mechanisms for obtaining restraining orders against abusive individuals, and extends protection to unmarried individuals and children of unmarried individuals. The law covers five forms of domestic violence – physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and spiritual. The maximum punishment for family violence offenses is 15 years’ imprisonment. The law also criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and forcible sexual assault and establishes penalties for violations ranging from three years to life in prison. It requires, however, that victims prove they were subjected to violence. Domestic violence resulting in “nonsignificant bodily harm” falls under the contraventions code, rather than the criminal code, and may be punished by a fine or community service. The law provides for cooperation between government and civil society organizations, establishes victim protection as a human rights principle, and allows third parties to file complaints on behalf of survivors.

Civil society organizations set up a platform of 23 NGOs nationwide, including in the Transnistria region, called the National Coalition for Life without Violence, which contributes to the reduction of domestic violence and promotes the human rights of victims of gender-based violence. The international NGO La Strada operated a hotline to report domestic violence, offered victims psychological and legal aid, and provided victims options for follow-up assistance. The Women’s Law Center also offered legal, psychological, and social support to domestic violence victims. An additional two centers provided counselling and resocialization services to aggressors.

Rape remained a significant problem, and there were no specific governmental rape prevention activities. Marital rape was rarely reported, as 50 percent of women considered that sexual intercourse during marriage was a marital obligation. Survivors of violence were often revictimized by the system and subjected to negative social stigmas. Legislative gaps, negative social stigma, and fear of revictimization contributed to a culture of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. Few survivors of sexual offenses reported the crimes. In 2020 survivors faced additional obstacles in reporting sexual violence due to quarantine measures imposed by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government did not take sufficient measures to develop specialized health services for survivors of sexual violence. Public information on forensic bodies examining sexual violence cases was unavailable, which limited survivors’ access to specialized services. In September the General Police Inspectorate’s Criminal Investigation Department introduced internal guidelines and procedures for the effective investigation of sexual assault crimes, but enforcement was delayed because of a lack of a relevant legal framework.

Between January and October police registered 1,913 domestic violence cases, including 16 domestic violence cases that resulted in death and 10 cases of marital rape. The General Police Inspectorate issued 4,656 emergency restraining orders, and courts issued 600 protection orders. Police registered 4,690 domestic violence abusers.

The law authorizes the Ministry of Justice to use electronic devices for monitoring accused abusers in domestic violence cases. According to National Probation Inspectorate (NPI) official data, during the year the agency issued 492 protection orders requiring abusers to wear electronic monitoring devices. Prior to using the devices, the NPI reported a 70 percent recidivism rate among abusers. During the year the NPI reported a 19.65 percent recidivism rate. The NPI also registered and filed cases against 80 abusers who broke protection order rules.

During the year police and human rights NGOs continued to report an increase in domestic violence complaints. COVID-19 quarantine measures, social distancing, restrictions on freedom of movement and other pandemic-related restrictive measures contributed to this increase. According to a 2020 study conducted by La Strada, more than 90.4 percent of persons who experienced domestic violence were women. From January to November, La Strada’s Women and Girls’ Trust Line received 1,780 calls, including 1,068 complaints of domestic violence, a significant increase over 2020 when 390 calls were received during the same period. According to La Strada, the number of calls from urban areas was 50 percent higher than the number of calls from rural areas. The number of calls was reportedly influenced by the increased effectiveness of police interventions in domestic violence cases. Police interventions were more effective because of the hotline, which routed all calls from women and girls reporting domestic violence to a special office trained to respond to domestic violence cases.

According to La Strada, the subject of sexual violence remained sensitive in the country. The most frequent sexual violence crime was rape. In Transnistria domestic violence without “substantial bodily harm” (such as broken bones or a concussion) remains an administrative, rather than criminal, offense that is only punishable by a fine.

Survivors of domestic violence in Transnistria are not protected by the “law,” which lacks a definition of domestic violence and does not allow for domestic violence cases to be distinguished from other crimes, which resulted in the absence of official statistics on the number of domestic violence cases. According to local NGOs, as of October 31, the Trustline hotline for preventing domestic violence registered 1,340 calls. According to the NGO Rezonans Center, one in 10 residents in the region believed that a husband has the right to beat his wife. Transnistrian “authorities” often did not take any action when women were beaten by male abusers.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law provides criminal penalties for sexual harassment ranging from a fine to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits sexual advances that affect a person’s dignity or create an unpleasant, hostile, degrading, or humiliating environment in a workplace or educational institution. There are no criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in employment. According to NGOs law enforcement agencies steadily improved their handling of sexual harassment cases, addressing harassment of students by university professors and several instances of workplace harassment. Civil society groups, however, criticized the judicial system for displaying inadequate concern for the safety of victims and for not holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior.

A study on sexual harassment in educational institutions conducted May to November by the Partnership Development Center and East European Foundation found that only 35 percent of students viewed inappropriate looks and gestures, unwarranted hugs, and the use of words with sexual connotations as sexual harassment. The study showed that female students were better informed to identify sexual harassment cases compared to their male counterparts. One in five students interviewed confirmed that he or she was sexually harassed during their lifetime, and more than 40 percent of these students did not report the cases or request support.

According to a 2020 informative note on a bill published by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection calling for the review of national legislation on sexual harassment, one in five women in the country experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Societal attitudes and lack of interest from law enforcement discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment.

A 2020 study by the Women’s Law Center and the Women in Police Association, Women in police: Perceptions about sexual harassment, revealed a high number of incidents of women in law enforcement who were victims of sexual harassment. According to the study, 7.9 percent of women in the police force confirmed they were victims of sexual harassment, and every fourth woman experienced unwarranted comments regarding their private life or the way they looked. One in 10 women experienced instances of sexual harassment, such as staring at their bodies, inappropriate looks, or inappropriately sexual conversations. The women reported that 71 percent of the perpetrators of harassing behavior were coworkers, while 22.4 percent of women admitted they received threats, coercion, or the promise of professional benefits from superiors. Every seventh respondent (14.5 percent) answered that she remained silent when she experienced an act of sexual harassment. Nearly one-quarter of respondents (23.2 percent) did not report harassment out of fear they would not be taken seriously. Half of women employed in the police force was not sure if she could safely report an act of sexual harassment.

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

The law provides that minors under the age of 16 must have permission from a parent or legal guardian to obtain reproductive health services; a medical provider may waive this requirement if the minor’s life or health are in danger. The state provides contraception free of charge to citizens through primary care providers. Although minors have access to contraception without parental consent through a network of Youth-Friendly Health Centers, many were reluctant to request contraception from family doctors due to social stigma.

As in previous years, women continued to face discrimination and difficulties in accessing health information and health care, particularly women in rural areas, women with special needs, displaced women, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, sex workers, drug users, HIV-positive women, refugees, undocumented migrants, stateless women, women with disabilities, and single mothers. Marginalized women faced exclusion, stigmatization, and discrimination, which often kept them in poverty and impeded their access to public services. Teenagers and young women in rural areas had particularly limited access to accurate information on reproductive and sexual health.

According to a report released in March by the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights, the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in residential institutions and psychiatric hospitals were not respected. Many of the girls interviewed by the institute in 2020 did not have basic knowledge concerning life skills and their sexual and reproductive rights which would impact their future ability to live independently and set up families following deinstitutionalization. The institute noted that female residents in these institutions did not have knowledge regarding contraceptives or free access to hygiene products. The personnel were not properly trained to provide qualified medical counsel on sexual and reproductive rights. In addition, these institutions were characterized by a stereotype that women with disabilities did not require sexual-reproductive education because they did not have sex or the capacity to become parents.

Victims of sexual violence had access to sexual and reproductive health services on the same basis as other citizens. Emergency contraception was not universally available to survivors as part of clinical management of rape. Emergency contraception was only provided by family doctors and was not available in emergency centers.

Discrimination: Women and men have the same legal status in family, labor, property, nationality, inheritance law, and in the judicial system. The law requires that women fill a minimum of 40 percent of decision-making positions in government and political offices, including a minimum quota of 40 percent of candidates for parliament on the electoral lists of political parties, distributed evenly across the entire electoral list, and sanctions for noncompliance. During the July parliamentary elections, 46.5 percent of candidates were women, of which 42.7 percent were among the top 10 on the party lists. The 101-member parliament includes 40 women.

While the law strictly forbids discrimination and spells out employers’ responsibilities in ensuring that workplaces are free of discrimination and sexual harassment and prohibits sexist and discriminatory language and images in the media and advertising, discrimination remained a significant problem. Women experienced discrimination in the workplace (see section 7.d.). In addition, some political candidates and media outlets used misogynistic rhetoric during the campaign season for the July parliamentary elections.

According to a 2020 report issued by the Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction and Promo-LEX, female drug users, sex workers, and inmates were the most vulnerable to multiple risks, such as HIV or AIDS, human trafficking, harassment, and violence due to discrimination, criminalization, stigmatization, and exclusion from society. Despite such vulnerabilities, authorities did not protect basic rights to health care and justice for women in these categories.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination with respect to employment, pay, and access to pension benefits persisted in the country (see section 7.d.).

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law and public authorities, regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion, political affiliation, wealth, or social origin. The Law on Ensuring Equality governs the equality principles; prevents and combats discrimination; and provides for equality in political, economic, social, cultural life, and other areas regardless of race, color, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion or belief, sex, age, disability status, opinion, political affiliation, or any other similar criteria. Discrimination and hate-based crime were reported throughout the year, particularly against Roma and the Jewish community.

Roma continued to be one of the most vulnerable minority groups in the country and faced a higher risk of marginalization, underrepresentation in political decision making, illiteracy, and social prejudice. Roma had lower levels of education, more limited access to health care, and higher rates of unemployment than the general population (see section 7.d.). According to a study released in 2020 by the Partnership for Development Center, the employment rate among Roma was only 6.4 percent. The unemployment rate among the Romani community stood at 45 percent. Romani women were particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and discrimination.

Some Romani communities lacked running water, sanitation facilities, and heating. Other problems facing Roma included lack of emergency health-care services in secluded settlements, unfair or arbitrary treatment by health practitioners, and lower rates of health insurance coverage. Authorities lacked an effective mechanism to address vulnerable families whose children did not attend school.

During a press conference in May, representatives of the National Roma Center and Center for Roma Rights said that the situation of the victims of crimes motivated by hatred, prejudice, or contempt or hate speech had remained unchanged over the past 10 years. Romani leaders accused law enforcement bodies of failing to investigate hate speech and holding discriminatory attitudes towards Roma. In one case investigators refused to launch criminal proceedings into a speech that members of the Romani community stated was “full of hatred, racists and offending statements about the Roma” delivered by former President Igor Dodon. Roma representatives also reported that police failed or refused to investigate cases of discrimination against Roma.

According to a 2019 survey of 476 Romani women from 48 localities conducted by the Roma Women Network in Moldova, the most serious problems reported were limited access to education, the job market, medical services, and information on health and hygiene. The survey showed that only 36.6 percent of Romani women attended some form of state-guaranteed education, while 57.8 percent said they did not have an opportunity to continue their studies. Some 84.7 percent of respondents were unemployed, and many of them alleged that they were subject to discrimination when trying to get a job. According to the survey, one-third of Romani women reported discrimination when consulting a doctor, and 70 percent reported not having access to information on health and hygiene.

According to Romani leaders, the community faced a high rate of emigration, and the state did not provide financing for Romani community mediators, as prescribed by law.

Birth Registration: Persons may acquire citizenship through birth to a citizen parent, birth in the country to stateless persons, birth to parents who cannot transmit their citizenship to the child, or through adoption by citizen parents. Registration of birth is free of charge for all citizens. The lack of registration certificates for many children, especially in rural areas and in Romani families, remained a problem.

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory until the ninth grade. Education of Romani children remained a problem; only half of Roma children attended school and one in five attended preschool. According to Roma representatives, absenteeism and school dropout rates in Romani communities stemmed from poverty and fear of discrimination.

During the year the authorities introduced a hybrid system with some schools, and educational institutions switching to partial or full-time online schooling, depending on the number of COVID-19 infections among students and teaching staff. Most kindergartens remained operational but worked at half-capacity, which drew criticism from some parents. During the year authorities and several international organizations provided technical support for online schooling.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits child neglect and specific forms of abuse, such as forced begging, child abuse remained a problem. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection has noted that social norms created a permissive environment for violence against children at home and at school.

The Ministry of Education and Research reported 7,181 cases of violence against children during the 2020-21 academic year. In most cases children were subject to physical violence, neglect, psychological violence, and labor exploitation. Local public authorities failed to monitor all cases of abuse against children, claiming a lack of experts. The ombudsman for children’s rights stated that most child neglect cases were due to alcohol abuse in the family.

According to the General Police Inspectorate, law enforcement bodies documented 212 cases of child sexual abuse in 2020, including 69 cases of sexual abuse by members of their families. A total of 440 children subjected to violence at home were removed from their biological families and placed in family-type centers. In 2020 police initiated 1,880 cases against parents who subjected their children to neglect, abuse, or violence or barred their access to education.

A 2020 study by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research and the National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse noted that children were exposed to more risks during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased psychosocial stress, a sense of fear and panic generated by the pandemic, the suspension of school activity, infection with coronavirus or quarantine, access to and improper use of disinfectants and alcohol, increased vulnerability to exploitation for child labor, social discrimination, and the limited availability of services for children with disabilities. A special unit for minors in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Juvenile Justice Unit, is responsible for ensuring that particular attention and expertise are devoted to child abuse victims and child offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for women and 18 for men. There were no official statistics regarding child marriages.

Child marriage was most common in Roma communities, where there were reports of girls between the ages of 12 and 14 being married. This either took the form of a forced marriage, whereby a girl is married off to an adult man against her will, or an arranged marriage, whereby “matchmakers” arranged for two children to be married in the future. In such cases marriage takes place without official documentation or registration. After marriage girls commonly dropped out of school to take on household duties.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The exploitation of a child in a commercial sex act is punishable by 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment. Authorities punished commercial sex with minors as statutory rape. The law prohibits the production, distribution, broadcasting, import, export, sale, exchange, use, or possession of child pornography, for which the punishment is one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. These laws were generally enforced. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. According to the International Organization for Migration’s 2020 Violence against Children and Youth Survey report for Moldova, 7.6 percent of girls and 5.4 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 experienced sexual violence in the previous year.

The Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Organized Crime and Special Cases is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child sexual abuse cases, and the Antitrafficking Bureau of the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child trafficking and child sexual exploitation. During the first 10 months of the year, law enforcement officials identified 49 victims of child online sexual exploitation and other child sexual abuse crimes, ranging in age from eight to 17 years old. La Strada’s Child Safeguarding Team registered 76 new cases of child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse that included nine cases of rape, eight cases of child pornography, three cases of child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and 17 cases of other forms of sexual abuse. Law enforcement bodies referred 63 cases for assistance.

According to La Strada, from February to May, 855 children requested counseling on various aspects related to child safety online and 22 children reported cases of online child sexual abuse. The reported cases increased three times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Institutionalized Children: The government, with support from civil society organizations, continued the deinstitutionalization of children, though this process was slow because of the pandemic. Children with disabilities were placed in three state-run residential institutions. The government also operated family-type homes, maternal centers, and daycare centers that provided various services for deinstitutionalized children, including children with disabilities. Children raised in residential institutions were at greater risk of unemployment, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and suicide as adults compared with their peers raised in families.

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.

The Jewish community numbered between 1,600 and 30,000 persons (depending on source and definition), including up to 2,000 living in Transnistria.

According to the Jewish community, anti-Semitic discourse and hate speech online and in the media against members of the Jewish community remained a systemic problem. Online publications related to the community’s activities often received hateful and insulting comments, some of which blamed the Jewish community for the spread of COVID-19. The Jewish community reported multiple instances of anti-Semitic and offending comments to news with a Jewish component posted on the private news portal point.md. In response to an article regarding the last Jewish citizen who was evacuated from Afghanistan by fellow citizens, anonymous authors posted anti-Semitic comments, such as “as always, there is no Holocaust for them” or “plus, minus one (Jewish citizen), not a great loss.” The news portal did not take any action to remove the anti-Semitic content. The Jewish community reported one case of vandalism at the Jewish memorial in Cosauti during the year, in which unknown individuals vandalized the monument honoring the memory of more than 6,000 Jews killed in the Cosauti forest during the Holocaust. Police opened an investigation but had not identified the perpetrators as of November.

In June the president signed legislation that introduced administrative and criminal liabilities for Holocaust denial and insulting the memory of the Holocaust. The amendments to the criminal code and the Law on the Freedom of Expression adopted by parliament in 2020 provide for punishment, including criminal, for Holocaust denial and xenophobic, racist, and fascist propaganda.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in education and employment and demands equal access to public facilities, health services, public buildings, and transportation. Authorities rarely enforced the law, and discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted.

The law requires new construction and transportation companies’ vehicles to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Authorities implemented the provisions of the law only to a limited extent. While many newly built or reconstructed buildings were accessible, older buildings largely remained inaccessible. According to the disability rights NGO Motivation, more than 70 percent of public institutions lacked access ramps for persons with disabilities. Persons with mobility disabilities complained regarding the lack of access to public transportation and public institutions as well as the shortage of designated parking places. Despite some improvements during the year, city authorities and construction companies often disregarded legal requirements on accessibility for persons with mobility impairments.

An experiment organized in November in Chisinau by the disability rights NGO Motivation featured several public officials who each simulated common visual, hearing, and mobility impairments attempting to navigate public spaces. The participants confirmed the difficulty of accessing public infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and the lack of knowledge among service providers on the needs of persons with visual or hearing impairments.

Most schools were poorly equipped to address the needs of children with disabilities. Some children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, while authorities placed others in segregated boarding schools, or they were home schooled. Media reported several cases against discrimination of children with disabilities by teaching staff. For example in November the mother of a 15-year-old minor with Marfan syndrome reported frequent discrimination and verbal abuse by a physics teacher at a school in Chisinau. According to the minor, the teacher used such words as “handicapped or stupid,” gave lower grades and often discriminated against the student in front of his classmates. The teacher rejected the allegations. The school administration promised to investigate the case.

Although the law provides for equal employment opportunities and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (except for jobs requiring specific health standards), many employers either failed to provide accommodations or avoided employing persons with disabilities.

According to NGOs providing services for persons with impaired mobility, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected persons with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs. Authorities suspended the provision of most health-care rehabilitation and social services during the public health emergency, negatively affecting the physical and psychological condition of persons with disabilities.

Investigation of degrading treatment of patients in psychoneurological institutions was deficient. In most cases prosecutors refused to investigate complaints submitted by patients, questioning the accuracy of allegations made by persons with mental disabilities. According to Promo-LEX, most prosecutors and investigators lacked technical skills to investigate acts of violence or torture in psychiatric institutions. Authorities also lacked a regulatory framework for the psychological assessment of victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in psychiatric institutions.

During the year members of the Council for Prevention of Torture, as part of the NMPT, conducted preventive visits to residential institutions for persons with disabilities. The NMPT identified pervasive problems in such institutions, including a shortage of personnel in most residential institutions and of qualified medical staff in institutions hosting persons with disabilities; neglect of the special needs of persons with mental disabilities; verbal and physical abuse by personnel of persons with disabilities; involuntary confinement of patients; insufficient qualified staff at specialized institutions for children with disabilities; and lack of complaint mechanisms.

Following the suspicious death of a 34-year-old resident in the temporary placement center for persons with disabilities in Cocieri, the NMPT monitored the institution from July to September and found serious deficiencies in the treatment of its residents. While the NMPT did not find any physical violence that might have led to the death, it noted that the lack of an appropriate medical investigation and care. In another case it reported neglect being used as a form of punishment for a woman with a personality disorder due to epilepsy, which led to the worsening of the patient’s health and ultimately her death because of untreated pneumonia. The NMPT also reported pervasive neglect of patients’ health situation by the center’s staff, inadequate administration of medicine, and lack of professionalism when dealing with patients with mental disabilities. The NMPT concluded that the staff did not properly monitor and treat common illnesses of its residents, which often led to deaths.

A July visit by NMPT to the Psychiatric Hospital in Orhei which hosted 117 patients revealed a number of serious deficiencies, including hospital wards hosting up to six patients with mental disabilities conducive to a hostile environment and aggression between patients and lack of privacy; lack of a ventilation system; lack of artificial light (most wards did not have electric power, limiting patients’ activities to daylight hours); limited access to water due to deficiencies in the old water-supply pipes; inappropriate sanitary facilities (a shower with no doors for 30 patients); lack of hygiene products for female patients; lack of access ramps or accommodations for persons with impaired mobility; lack of appropriate material conditions or minimum interior design that might improve the patients’ well-being; and a lack of any nonmedical activities (at the start of the visit most patients were sleeping and not reacting to NMPT questions). Patients often were not allowed outside walks and were limited to getting “some fresh air” on a joint balcony because the hospital was not fenced and there were no personnel to accompany patients on walks. Monitors also identified cases of labor exploitation, where institutions assigned housekeeping duties to patients in lieu of hiring staff.

According to the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights, systemic deficiencies identified in psychiatric hospitals and temporary placement centers for persons with disabilities were not addressed, and restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic generated new abuses in these institutions. In particular, the institute noted the lack of qualified medical personnel; patients in psychiatric hospitals with COVID-19 being treated by psychiatrists; initial placement of new patients with existing patients without COVID-19 PCR or antigen testing; and insufficient protective and sanitary equipment or medicines for COVID-19 treatment protocols. Experts reported cases of forced medication without a legally mandated court order. Patients isolated in temporary placement centers reported the administration of psychotropic drugs without consent and mistreatment by personnel. The institute also found deficiencies in the documentation, investigation, and management of cases involving persons with mental or psychosocial impairments by police, prosecutors, judges, and health-service providers. According to the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights, the Balti Psychiatric Hospital lacked a separate ward for patients who committed crimes, leaving them to be housed and treated alongside civilly committed and voluntarily committed patients. Persons with different types of disabilities and widely different ages were sometimes lodged in the same rooms, and unjustified restrictive measures were sometimes applied. There was no separation of persons who were civilly committed as presenting a danger to themselves or others from those who voluntarily committed themselves in any of the country’s three psychiatric hospitals.

An audit on the accessibility of polling stations conducted by the Central Electoral Commission and the UN Development Program in 2019 found that only 1 percent of 612 stations assessed were fully accessible for wheelchair-bound persons. Most polling stations had no ramps or accessible toilets, narrow entrances, and dark hallways, which led many persons with disabilities to request mobile ballot boxes. According to Central Election Commission data, there were 170,000 persons with disabilities of voting age. There were no measurable improvements to accessible voting during the year.

According to the ENEMO preliminary findings on the July 11 snap parliamentary elections, while the Central Electoral Commission prepared voter education materials for promoting the involvement of persons with disabilities in the elections, provided precinct electoral bureaus with magnifying lenses, ballot frames in braille and special booths, and trained polling station staff, the measures taken were insufficient. According to ENEMO observers, on election day, 31 percent of observed polling stations were accessible; 31 percent required minor assistance, and 38 percent were inaccessible. ENEMO also noted that the extensive use of mobile ballot boxes for persons with disabilities did not contribute to more active involvement in elections. The same report noted that electoral contestants did not address the needs and problems of persons with disabilities during the electoral campaign and that only two electoral contenders (the Action and Solidarity Party and National Unity Party) published electoral programs and materials in braille.

The government continued the deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities and provided alternative community-based services under the National Program of Deinstitutionalization of People with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities from residential institutions for 2018-26. Human rights observers criticized the country’s guardianship system. A person placed under guardianship loses all standing before the law and cannot perform social and legal acts, such as marriage, voting, claiming social benefits, and consenting to or refusing medication. Most residential institutions lacked proper accommodation for persons with mobility impairments.

In Transnistria the “law” provides for protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of education, health care, and employment.

Reliable information on the treatment of persons with disabilities in Transnistria was generally unavailable, but there were reports that children with disabilities rarely attended school and lacked access to specialized resources.

Persons living with HIV continued to face societal and official discrimination.

The law prohibits hospitals and other health institutions from denying admission or access to health-care services or requesting additional fees from persons with HIV or suspected of being HIV-positive. Prison inmates with HIV or AIDS faced high levels of discrimination by both prison staff and other inmates. Official practice requires that positive HIV test results be reported to the public health sector’s infectious disease doctor. In some cases, positive test results were also reported to the patient’s family physician, a practice to which many HIV-positive individuals objected.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The Criminal Code, however, criminalizes homosexuality.

Police frequently condoned or tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. According to NGO Genderdoc-M, in most cases law enforcement bodies failed to identity and hold to account persons who perpetrated acts of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals.

During the year the Socialist Party criticized activists who spoke out in favor of LGBTQI+ rights and advocated for the adoption of “antigay propaganda” laws. On May 13, members of the Socialist Party in parliament held a press conference to propose several legislative initiatives, including amending the constitution to “prohibit marriage of same-sex partners and include a provision that states that the parents of a child represent a father (male parent) and a mother (female parent).” In May leaders of the party proposed criminal penalties for public expressions of support for LGBTQI+ rights. The party also sought to introduce criminal liability for “propaganda of homosexualism.” The proposed laws, however, were not introduced in parliament’s agenda.

Hate speech and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem. In January the newspaper Komsomoliskaya Pravda v Moldove published an article, “Let these bastards be punished as an example! How Stalin declared war on gays.” The article favorably portrayed actions by Stalin and the Soviet government to criminalize and punish homosexuality. As of September, Genderdoc-M reported 20 cases of violations of the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals. In most cases parents applied physical and psychological violence against their minor children after they disclosed their gender identity or sexual orientation. Insults against LGBTQI+ representatives on social media were also frequent.

Civil society organizations reported that, although transgender individuals were allowed to change their names (e.g., from a male to a female name) on legal identity documents, including passports, the government did not permit them to update gender markers to reflect their gender identity. The Public Services Agency continued to refuse to change identity documents for transgender individuals, despite court orders. Transgender individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continued. The LGBTQI+ community reported verbal and physical abuse and attacks. As in in previous years, police were reluctant to open investigations against perpetrators of abuse. In November a soldier from Moldova, while on vacation overseas, posted a video message online in which he declared that he would not return to the army because he was mistreated after his sexual orientation was disclosed. Subsequently, the Ministry of Defense stated that an internal investigation had been launched, but simultaneously requested the Prosecutor General’s Office investigate an alleged offense committed by the soldier who was in a relationship with a 17-year-old minor. Genderdoc-M noted that the age of consent in Moldova is 16 and called the investigation “a tool for intimidation” designed to transfer responsibility “from the aggressors to the victim of discrimination.” On November 19, President Sandu, in her role as supreme commander of the armed forces, said that she would discuss this case with Ministry of Defense to ensure that all state institutions respect human rights. In a November 25 response to the soldier’s lawyer, the Ministry of Defense stated it had found no evidence of abuse or mistreatment of the individual.

In Transnistria consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and LGBTQI+ persons were subjected to official as well as societal discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The government generally respected these rights with limitations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law does not allow government workers and workers in essential services, such as law enforcement, judges, holders of public administration offices, health-care providers, and public utility employees, to strike. The law prohibits strikes when the government declares an emergency, such as during natural disasters, epidemics, and pandemics. Authorities may impose compulsory arbitration at the request of one party to a dispute. There were no groups of workers excluded from or covered differently by relevant legal protections.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were generally independent of the government, political parties, employers, or employers’ associations, although the country’s sole national-level trade union confederation has remained largely unreformed since independence in 1991.

There were no reports that the government, political parties, or employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Prosecutors may reject appeals by trade unions alleging antiunion behavior, and authorities did not punish alleged violations of the trade union law.

There is a mechanism to monitor and enforce labor laws through the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but it failed to monitor effectively and enforce the rights to collective bargaining and to organize. The law does not provide effective sanctions for violations of freedom of association, or stipulate penalties for violating trade union rights. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other laws related to civil rights.

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions. The law and a government decision allow central and local authorities as well as military bodies to mobilize the adult population under certain conditions, such as in the event of a national disaster, and to employ such labor to develop the national economy. The government did not invoke this provision during the year.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation for forced labor were generally inadequate. Penalties for persons who engage workers in forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Men and women were subjected to labor trafficking within the country and in other parts of Europe. Internal trafficking occurred in all regions of the country, focused mostly on farms and begging in larger towns. Internal trafficking for begging and labor exploitation, particularly in the agriculture and construction sectors, was steadily on the rise. The alleged complicity of government officials in trafficking continued to be a significant problem that the government authorities attempted to curb by prosecuting those involved.

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

The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor. Gaps exist in the legal framework to adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labor, however, including the minimum age for work. The minimum age for employment is 15. The law permits juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to work under special conditions, including shorter workdays (35 hours per week and no night, weekend, holiday, or overtime work). With written permission from a parent or guardian, 15-year-old children may work. Work for children who are 15 or 16 should not exceed 24 hours per week. Children younger than 18 are not allowed to perform hazardous and dangerous activities in 30 industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and textiles. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for persons engaging children in the worst forms of child labor. Under aggravating circumstances, courts can increase the sentence to life imprisonment.

The penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce legal protections, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the agriculture, construction, service, and industrial sectors. The government was unable to make unannounced inspections and could only act on a violation directly related to a complaint. If child labor violations were observed during a complaint-based inspection, the government did not have the authority to act.

Parents who owned or worked on farms often sent children to work in fields or to find other employment. Children left behind by parents who had emigrated abroad also worked on farms. The vast majority of child laborers worked in family businesses or on family farms.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect to employment and occupation based on sex, age, race, color, nationality, religion, political opinion, social origin, residence, disability, HIV-positive status, and membership or activity in trade unions, as well as other criteria. The law requires employers to provide for equal opportunity and treatment of employees without discrimination, to apply the same criteria to assess each employee’s work, and to provide equal conditions for men and women relating to work and family obligations. The law defines and prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. The government did not uniformly enforce the law, but when enforced, penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other crimes related to denial of civil rights. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Discrimination on the basis of sex in access to pension benefits persisted. The age at which men and women can retire with either full or partial benefits is not equal, nor is the mandatory retirement age for men and women.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, minority status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace is common in the country. Pregnant women reported being denied employment opportunities, since such employment was associated with additional benefits payable after childbirth.

The law also stipulates that the Equality Council be responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations. As of September the council had made decisions on 193 cases of alleged discrimination, 3.2 percent more than in 2019.

In Transnistria job segregation “laws” ban women from more than 300 jobs. Prohibited occupations include a wide variety of occupations deemed “too dangerous or demanding” for women, including welding, pouring, driving, snow blowing, gas extracting, and climbing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage that is less than the poverty level. According to the SLI, as of October salary arrears were at 39.6 million lei ($2.2 million).

The law sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours with overtime compensation, provides for at least one day off per week, and mandates paid annual leave of at least 28 calendar days (government holidays excluded). Different paid leave plans may be used in some sectors, such as education, health care, and public service. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Foreign, migrant, and domestic workers have the same wage and hour protections as other workers.

The SLI is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors were generally required to give advance notice before conducting labor investigations and were generally prohibited from conducting onsite inspections if the information sought could be obtained in writing, which undercut their enforcement ability. In January parliament reversed changes that delegated responsibility for occupational safety and health inspections to the 10 sectoral inspection agencies and returned it to the SLI. Stringent requirements for initiation of unannounced inspections remained a problem in detecting and addressing labor violations. Inspectors did not have authority to initiate sanctions without concurrence from a superior and court certification. In the first 10 months of the year, the SLI reported 436 unplanned inspections in areas defined by law as “labor relations,” “salary payments” and “occupational safety and health.” Labor inspectors could not confirm that any of these unplanned inspections were unannounced. The government did not effectively enforce wage and hour laws. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which are appropriate for the main industries. According to labor law, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Effective January 1, responsibility for occupational safety and health inspections returned from the 10 sectoral inspection agencies to the SLI.

Government efforts to enforce occupational health and safety standards were limited and ineffective. The law requires the government to establish and monitor safety standards in the workplace but inspections could only occur when a complaint was received and not all complaints met the criteria for a workplace inspection. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Poor economic conditions led enterprises to spend less on safety equipment and to pay insufficient attention to worker safety. There was a consensus among stakeholders that after the change in the legislation governing labor inspections, occupational safety and health standards in the workplace worsened. In the first 10 months of the year, the SLI reported 471 work accidents involving 502 victims. The SLI also reported 61 work-related deaths. Enterprise committees investigated 340 cases of temporary incapacitation resulting from work accidents that involved 356 persons.

Informal Sector: A thriving informal economy accounted for a significant portion of the country’s economic activity. According to the International Labor Organization, 30.9 percent of the total employed population had an informal job. Workers in the informal economy did not have the same legal protections under wage, hour, and occupational safety and health provisions as employees in the formal sector. No government social programs targeted workers in the informal economy who were hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdowns during the year.

The labor code requires work contracts for employment, but the government did not have an effective mechanism to monitor compliance. In the agricultural sector, approximately 63 percent of workers were employed informally, according to the National Trade Union Confederation.

Romania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to political parties and owners’ interests. Reporters and civil society representatives said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist, and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. On February 4, a Bucharest court found former intelligence officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation. The defendant wrote articles that described the Holocaust as a “fraud.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians, or those with close ties to politicians and political groups, either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.

On December 11, Bucharest police detained Italian journalist Lucia Goracci and her crew working for Italian state television broadcaster RAI at the request of Senator Diana Sosoaca, who held them against their will in her office during a previously agreed interview regarding her antivaccination views. Goracci stated that the senator’s husband Dumitru Silvestru Sosoaca bit her hand and accused police of following the senator’s orders instead of protecting the journalist and her crew. The RAI team was released by police after the Italian embassy’s intervention. As of December several criminal investigations were ongoing in connection with this case.

On May 24, the Bucharest Court of Appeals sentenced former dean of the Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and his deputy, Mihail Marcoci, to a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 hours of community service, and 80,000 lei ($18,900) in victim’s compensation for inciting a police officer to blackmail and issue death threats against a reporter, Emilia Sercan. Sercan and the National Anticorruption Directorate appealed the sentence. In 2019 Sercan received death threats after an investigative journalism article she wrote in PressOne.ro alleged several cases of plagiarism of Police Academy doctoral dissertations, including the dean’s dissertation. Sercan’s investigation led to the Police Academy losing its right to award doctorate degrees.

On September 16, a group of 20 individuals armed with axes and sticks attacked and beat journalist and filmmaker Mihai Dragolea, director Radu Constantin Mocanu, and environmental activist Tiberiu Bosutar, who were documenting illegal logging in a Suceava County forest. Media outlets reported that two of the victims lost consciousness and their film equipment was destroyed by the attackers. Four of the 20 individuals were arrested and later released and placed under judicial monitoring by prosecutors. The case remained ongoing as of October.

State officials filed baseless civil and criminal cases against investigative journalists, impeding the operation of some media outlets.

For example, throughout the year the mayor of Bucharest Sector 4, Daniel Baluta, filed more than 30 civil court cases and administrative complaints against the Libertatea newspaper and demanded the paper stop mentioning his name in their reporting. From May 20-21, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism interrogated senior editors and employees from Libertatea and Newsweek Romania in response to Baluta’s claims that the reporters had formed an organized crime group to blackmail him. Both outlets had published investigative journalism article regarding Baluta’s mishandling of public tenders and contracts. Local and international media freedom watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, called on authorities to investigate the directorate’s handling of the case and intimidating interrogation methods. In June the directorate dropped some of the charges against the reporters and sent the remaining cases to the National Anticorruption Directorate. The case remained pending as of November.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers, however, may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility, or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” The government restricted the movement of persons granted “tolerated status” (see section 2.f., Temporary Protection).

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons as well as other persons of concern, including irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.

Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees in the form of refugee status or “subsidiary protection” status.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally referred to EU member states but could also include other countries approved by the Internal Affairs Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures or who already benefited from international protection granted in such a country. Exceptions were allowed in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution or serious risk.

The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law applies to irregular migrants who transited, were offered protection, or had the opportunity to contact authorities to obtain protection in a third country considered safe. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government has not rejected any application for protection on a safe third country basis.

Refoulement:The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum) intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: According to media and NGOs, several incidents of harassment, discrimination, abuses against refugees and migrants, pushbacks, and deviations from asylum procedures at border areas occurred throughout the year, although most incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms. In February the NGO LOGS (Group for Social Initiatives, an organization that aided asylum seekers in the city of Timisoara) documented several alleged acts of violence by police against asylum seekers. According to testimonials from several asylum seekers, members of the border police and local police destroyed their phones, took their money, or used excessive force against them. The Amsterdam-based organization Lighthouse Reports and the Border Violence Monitoring Network reported that several cases of violent pushback of migrants or refugees by authorities occurred throughout the year at the country’s border with Serbia.

Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through October. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.

According to UNHCR, irregular migrants, persons declared as “undesirable,” asylum seekers deemed to pose a “risk of absconding,” as well as other categories of foreigners may face detention in public custody centers or in closed areas inside reception centers. Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”

The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.

Employment: While persons granted international protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the country has become an emergent resettlement country, having agreed to resettle small quotas of refugees every year. During the year the government accepted 200 refugees for resettlement from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan with the support of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.

Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, refugee integration programs relied almost exclusively on NGOs, with coordination from the General Inspectorate for Immigration. The support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs provided by local governments to refugees were limited.

Temporary Protection: The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country. There were no cases of individuals with tolerated status during the year.

Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of July there were 298 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.

The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, of both women and men, is illegal. The law provides for five to 10 years’ imprisonment for rape and two to seven years’ imprisonment for sexual assault. If there are no aggravating circumstances and the attack did not lead to death, police and prosecutors may not pursue a case on their own, but they require a survivor’s complaint, even if there is independent physical evidence. In some cases the government did not enforce the law on rape and domestic violence.

Several human rights activists reported that some police officers tried to dissuade survivors of rape or domestic violence from pressing charges against their aggressors and, in some cases, refused to register criminal complaints submitted by victims. In some instances, police delayed action against sexual abusers. According to media reports, after being notified regarding cases of domestic violence, some members of police ignored the problem or tried to mediate between the victims and their aggressors.

The law classifies family violence as a separate offense and stipulates that when murder, battery, or other serious violence is committed against a family member, the penalty is increased. The law also states that, if the parties reconcile, criminal liability is removed. The law on equal opportunities for men and women includes cyberviolence among the forms of domestic violence and defines it as the occurrence of online harassment, online messages that incite hate based on gender criteria, or the nonconsensual publication of private graphic content that aims to humiliate, scare, threaten, or reduce victims to silence. The FILIA Center for Gender Studies and Curriculum Development – an NGO that aims to promote gender equality – stated that there were no regulations to implement these amendments.

Gender-based violence, including domestic violence, continued to be a serious problem that the government did not effectively address. The law provides for the issuance of provisional restraining orders by police for a maximum of five days and restraining orders by a court for a maximum of six months upon the survivor’s request or at the request of a prosecutor, the state representative in charge of protecting survivors of family violence, or, if the survivor agrees, a social service provider. Violation of a restraining order is punishable by imprisonment for six months to five years, but the Center for Gender Studies and Curriculum Development stated that some judges may issue lesser sentences because of overlapping legislation. The court may also order an abuser to undergo psychological counseling. The center stated that police lacked procedures for the implementation and monitoring of restraining orders. A law that entered into force in May established an electronic monitoring system for individuals under a restraining order. The law directs police and the National Administration for Penitentiaries to procure the necessary hardware and make the monitoring system operational by March 2022.

Courts prosecuted very few cases of domestic violence. Many cases were resolved before or during trial when the alleged survivors dropped their charges or reconciled with the alleged abuser.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to reports by media and NGOs, bride kidnapping occurred in some communities and was underreported. On August 22, Buzau County police started a criminal investigation for illegal deprivation of liberty against several persons who kidnapped a 14-year-old girl with the intention of forcing her to marry a 19-year-old man. On July 2, the Constanta Court issued a nonfinal ruling sentencing three persons to three and four years’ imprisonment for illegal deprivation of liberty after they attempted to kidnap a 16-year-old girl to force her into marriage. According to media reports, the girl’s family had promised to arrange a marriage between her and one of the kidnappers’ sons, but the girl refused the arrangement.

Sexual Harassment: Criminal law prohibits sexual harassment, which it defines as repeatedly asking for sexual favors in a work or similar relationship. A victim’s complaint is necessary to initiate a criminal investigation. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment of three months to one year. The law on equal opportunities for women and men defines sexual harassment as the occurrence of unwanted behavior with a sexual connotation, which can be expressed physically, verbally, or nonverbally and has the effect or result of damaging a person’s dignity and, in particular the creation of a hostile, intimidating, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to reports by NGOs, police often mocked victims of sexual harassment or tried to discourage them from pressing charges.

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

According to several NGOs and observers, there were infrastructure and information barriers to an individual’s ability to maintain his or her reproductive health, including the lack of community health care and age-appropriate sex education for adolescents. Some women, especially those from poor, rural, or Romani communities, had difficulty accessing reproductive health services due to a lack of information, ethnic discrimination, and poverty. According to the NGO Mothers for Mothers, 25 percent of pregnant women consulted a physician for the first time only after the onset of labor.

Access to government-funded contraception and family planning services was limited because of insufficient funding and training for health professionals. According to the World Health Organization, as of 2020, 71.8 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied by modern methods of contraception. According to a report released by Save the Children Romania in February, of the 199,720 births in 2019, 17,933 occurred among mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, while 749 occurred among mothers younger than 15. NGOs, health professionals, and social workers identified underreported child sex abuse and limited access to information regarding reproductive health and contraception as the leading factors contributing to high teenage pregnancy rates. Several NGOs reported that the school curriculum lacked sufficient lessons on reproductive health. Parent and religious associations regularly thwarted attempts to introduce such lessons into the curriculum.

Observers reported that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some maternity hospitals were open only for patients infected with COVID-19, making access to reproductive and prenatal care more difficult. Although home birth is not prohibited by law, regulations forbid health professionals from providing home birth services. According to UNICEF, skilled health personnel attended 94.8 percent of deliveries in 2018.

The government provided access to some sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, but some women had difficulties accessing these services. Emergency contraceptives were available in pharmacies without a prescription, but according to the Center for Gender Studies and Curriculum Development, they were not affordable for all women.

Discrimination: Under the law women and men have equal rights. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. Segregation by profession existed, with women overrepresented in lower-paying jobs. There were reports of discrimination in employment. Women experienced discrimination in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

Under the law discrimination and harassment based on ethnic or racial criteria is punishable by a civil fine unless criminal legal provisions are applicable. According to the criminal code, public incitement to hatred or discrimination against a category of persons is punishable by imprisonment or a criminal fine. Special laws criminalize the spread of anti-Semitic or anti-Roma ideas and symbols, as well as ideas and symbols related to fascist, racist, and xenophobic ideologies. Committing any crime on basis of the victim’s ethnicity or race represents an aggravating circumstance, which carries a higher penalty. Prosecutions based on discrimination and violence against racial or ethnic minorities were rare.

Romani groups complained that there were instances of police harassment and brutality, including beatings. On May 3, according to the RomaJust Association of Roma Lawyers, police detained two Romani persons and took them to the police precinct in Baia village, Tulcea County. At the precinct, police officers severely beat and humiliated the two Roma for hours and used racial slurs against them. According to RomaJust, the victims suffered multiple injuries that took two months to heal. RomaJust reported that prosecutors started an investigation against police, which revealed that police officers from the area had a habit of beating Roma suspected of committing crimes.

Discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. NGOs reported Roma were denied access to, or refused service in, some public places. Roma also experienced poor access to government services, a shortage of employment opportunities, high rates of school attrition, and inadequate health care. According to a report released by the ADHR-HC in December 2020, Roma faced discrimination in the criminal justice system. Some lawyers refused to defend Romani persons, while police, prosecutors, and judges held negative stereotypes of Roma.

A lack of identity documents excluded many Roma from participating in elections, receiving social benefits, accessing health insurance, securing property documents, and participating in the labor market. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of October, 63,777 persons older than 14 residing in the country did not have valid identity documents. Romani rights activists reported that most of these persons were Roma who could not acquire legal identity documents because they resided in informal settlements and housing. Roma had a higher unemployment rate and a lower life expectancy than non-Roma. Negative stereotypes and discriminatory language regarding Roma were widespread.

Despite an order by the Ministry of Education forbidding segregation of Romani students, several NGOs, including the Center for Advocacy and Human Rights, continued to report that segregation along ethnic lines persisted in schools. The Center for Legal Resources reported that some teachers used discriminatory language against Romani students. Media and NGOs reported that on June 3, a sixth-grade student of Romani ethnicity threw himself out of a second-floor window of his school following repeated discrimination by his teacher and classmates.

Researchers and activists reported a significant number of the remaining Romani Holocaust survivors who applied for a pension were denied because of unreasonable administrative barriers raised by the pension offices, problematic standards, lack of knowledge regarding the Holocaust and Roma, and burdensome requirements. According to researchers, despite historical evidence, in hundreds of cases, authorities considered that Roma were resettled and not deported, and consequently granted them smaller pensions.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related mainly to the use of the Hungarian language. Ethnic Hungarians reported that the government did not enforce the law that states that ethnic minorities are entitled to interact with local governments in their native language in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population. There were continued reports that local authorities did not enforce the law requiring localities with at least a 20 percent minority population to have bilingual road signs. On July 19, media reported that a doctor in the Satu Mare County Emergency Hospital berated an elderly ethnic-Hungarian woman for speaking Hungarian while at the hospital. The patient, who spoke poor Romanian, was struggling to explain her symptoms to the doctor. According to the results of the most recent census, 37.6 percent of the population in Satu Mare County was ethnic Hungarian. The management of the Satu Mare County Emergency Hospital initiated disciplinary proceedings against the doctor.

In February unknown persons vandalized the Hungarian writing on a welcome sign located in the city of Cluj-Napoca and painted the Romanian flag on the Monument of Szekler Martyrs in the city of Targu Mures that commemorates several Hungarian revolutionaries. During a rally on March 29 in the city of Pitesti by the Alliance for the Unity of Romania Party, several hundred participants chanted, “Hungarians out of the country!” The Miko Imre Association for Minority Rights stated that government authorities have not provided forms and information related to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Hungarian.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth from at least one citizen parent. Although birth registration is mandatory by law, it was not universal, and authorities denied some children public services as a result. Most unregistered children had access to schools, and authorities assisted in obtaining birth documents for unregistered children, but the education of unregistered children depended on the decision of school authorities. The law provides simplified birth registration for children whose mothers do not have proper documentation to register their children.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, but this has not been interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment. Child abuse, including emotional, physical, and psychological violence and neglect, continued to be serious problems. Media outlets reported several severe cases of abuse or neglect in family homes, foster care, and child-welfare institutions. In January media outlets carried a video recording showing an educator employed by a residential center for minors in Rosiorii de Vede, Teleorman County, humiliating, hitting, and inappropriately touching several institutionalized children. According to a report by the NGO Save the Children Romania, parents widely use corporal punishment to discipline children. The government has not established a mechanism to identify and treat abused and neglected children and their families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for both men and women, but the law permits minors as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances. Illegal child marriage was reportedly common in certain social groups, particularly among some Romani communities. NGOs reported cases of Roma girls as young as 11 being sold into marriage by their families. Child protection authorities and police did not always intervene in such cases. There were no public policies to discourage child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides one- to 12-year prison sentences for persons convicted of sexual acts with minors, depending on the circumstances and the child’s age. Sexual intercourse with a minor who is 14 to 16 years of age is punishable by a one- to five-year prison sentence. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 14 is punishable by a two- to nine-year prison sentence and deprivation of some rights. The law also criminalizes sexual corruption of minors (which includes subjecting minors to sexual acts other than intercourse or forcing minors to perform such acts), luring minors for sexual purposes or commercial sex, and trafficking of minors. Pimping and pandering that involve minors is an aggravated circumstance and increases sentences by 50 percent. The law allows authorities to maintain a registry of individuals who committed sexual offenses against or exploited adults and children. Child pornography is a separate offense and carries a sentence, depending on the circumstances, of up to seven years’ imprisonment. The maximum sentence is increased to nine years if the perpetrator was a family member or guardian or if the child’s life was endangered.

In July the Judicial Inspectorate, an autonomous disciplinary unit within the Superior Council of Magistrates, released a report on the way the justice system handled cases of child sex abuse. According to the findings, prosecutorial offices and courts had different opinions on the age of consent, and consequently, in some cases, sexual intercourse with minors as young as 12 was treated as the lesser crime of sexual acts with minors instead of rape. Child-protection NGOs noted that some judges lacked awareness of the issue and showed bias against victims, who often come from socially disadvantaged groups. Investigators found it hard to prove sexual coercion of minors because of a lack of infrastructure, such as child-friendly interview rooms and the use of widely recognized methodologies developed by child psychologists to conduct forensic interviews with underage victims.

Institutionalized Children: During the year there were several media reports of abuses in centers for institutionalized children, including sexual abuse, physical violence and degrading treatment by colleagues or staff, and trafficking in persons. Numerous reports noted a lack of adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, and counselling services. Lack of hygiene, inadequate living conditions, insufficient food, and lack of physical therapy was a problem in many residential centers for children with disabilities.

On January 5, the president of the National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children, and Adoption (ANDPDCA) released a video showing employees of a placement center in the town of Voluntari physically abusing a child and threatening him with psychiatric detention. The ANDPDCA president stated that staff in centers for residential institutions frequently threatened children with calling an ambulance to take them to psychiatric facilities where they would receive psychotropic drugs. According to several NGOs, including the Center for Legal Resources, psychiatrists administered psychotropic drugs to thousands of children in residential institutions or in foster care, including to those with disruptive behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

By law unaccompanied migrant children are held in placement centers, where they have access to education and benefits other children receive. The detention of families with children is allowed by law, with preservation of family unity used as justification. Several such cases were recorded 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 travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

According to the 2011 census, the Jewish population numbered 3,271. Representatives of the Jewish community stated that the Jewish population numbered approximately 7,000. Acts of anti-Semitism occurred during the year.

On September 12, media outlets reported that unknown persons vandalized a memorial located in the northern city of Bistrita, dedicated to the Jews who were deported to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Several of the victims’ names written on the memorial were covered with paint or scratched.

On March 3, National Liberal Party member of parliament Daniel Gheorghe delivered remarks in parliament glorifying Mircea Vulcanescu. Mircea Vulcanescu was a convicted war criminal who, according to the Wiesel Institute, supported anti-Semitic policies as a cabinet member in the government of WWII leader Ion Antonescu. During a March 8 Senate session, Alliance for the Unity of Romanians senator Sorin Lavric made anti-Semitic statements referring to a conspiracy theory that Jews initiated and promoted communism. Lavric’s statements were made in response to Jewish member of parliament Silviu Vexler’s criticism of statements made by some members of parliament, including Lavric, that glorified Holocaust-era war criminals and members of the Legionnaire movement. The Alliance for the Unity of Romanians posted Lavric’s speech on its official Facebook page and described it as part of the fight for the country’s history and the nation’s soul.

On March 18, the director of the Jewish State Theater, Maia Morgenstern, stated on social media that during a meeting with representatives of public theaters and cultural institutions, one of the participants used anti-Semitic slurs. On March 27, Morgenstern received via email a letter that included anti-Semitic slurs and death threats against her children, as well as threats to set fire to the Jewish State Theater. On March 29, police announced that they had identified the author of the threats, placed him under judicial supervision, and initiated a criminal investigation. In a declaration adopted on March 31, the parliament stated that anti-Semitic incidents were on the rise and condemned attempts to glorify Holocaust-era war criminals and the threats received by Morgenstern.

Streets, organizations, schools, or libraries continued to be named after persons convicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity, according to the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. For example, Radu Gyr was a commander and anti-Semitic ideologist of the fascist Legionnaire movement convicted of war crimes. The Wiesel Institute requested the renaming of Radu Gyr Street in Cluj-Napoca. As of October the local government had not changed the name of the street.

Material promoting anti-Semitic views and glorifying the Legionnaire movement appeared on the internet. According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in April, several articles published online claimed that Jews or the state of Israel were profiting from the COVID-19 health crisis and manufacturing harmful vaccines. According to the same study, most anti-Semitic hate speech on social media included Jewish conspiracy theories.

Trafficking in Persons

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Laws and regulations mandate that buildings and public transportation be accessible for persons with disabilities. The government did not fully implement the law, and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained a problem. Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Streets, buildings, and public transportation remained largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Discrimination against children with disabilities in education was a widespread problem due to lack of adequate teacher training on inclusion of children with disabilities and lack of investment to make schools accessible. According to official data, 40 percent of children with disabilities were either placed in segregated schools or not placed in school at all. According to a report drafted by the World Bank for the National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children, and Adoption, which was released in December 2020, only 21 percent of middle schools had appropriate access ramps, while 64 percent of schools needed an elevator to ensure access for students with locomotive disabilities.

Limited access to justice for persons with disabilities continued to be a problem. According to a World Bank report released in December 2020, persons with disabilities faced several obstacles in the justice system, including inaccessible buildings, lack of access to information or communication, bias by employees of the justice system, legal procedures that were not adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities, and higher fees and costs related to legal services. In 2020 the Constitutional Court deemed legislation that allowed conservatorship unconstitutional because it did not include safeguards to ensure respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, had no possibility of periodic review, and did not differentiate the degree of incapacitation. Persons with disabilities placed under conservatorship did not have the right to liberty or the rights to work, vote, or consent to medical procedures. The NGO Center for Legal Resources reported that despite the Constitutional Court’s decision, as of October conservatorship for persons with disabilities had not been lifted.

The Center for Legal Resources identified a series of problems in centers for persons with disabilities or psychiatric hospitals, including verbal and physical abuse of children and adults, sedation, excessive use of physical restraints, lack of hygiene, inadequate living conditions, and lack of adequate medical care. According to media and Center for Legal Resources reports, on August 1, an employee of a government-managed center for persons with disabilities in Calinesti, Prahova County, gathered approximately 30 residents in the institution’s courtyard to discipline them. The employee then hit two of the residents several times. On August 4, the center’s medical staff called an ambulance to take one of the assaulted residents to the hospital. On August 5, the resident died after being released from the hospital. The Center for Legal Resources investigated the incident and found that residents did not have access to means of communication to notify authorities of the physical punishments and abuses. According to the center, between August 1 and August 4, its employees did not notify authorities regarding the violent episode and did not request a medical examination for the injured resident. Authorities arrested the suspect, and as of November a criminal investigation was ongoing.

In February 2020 the Center for Legal Resources released the conclusions of a visit made at a residential center for persons with disabilities located in the city of Husi, Vaslui County. There were reasonable suspicions that the residents of the center were subjected to physical punishment and verbal abuse. The NGO also discovered unsanitary living conditions, overcrowding, and lack of basic personal hygiene products. As of November the prosecutor’s office attached to the Huși First Instance Court was conducting a criminal investigation for illegal deprivation of liberty.

The National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children, and Adoptions under the Labor Ministry coordinated services for persons with disabilities and drafted policies, strategies, and standards in the field of disabilities rights.

Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS impeded their access to routine medical and dental care because in some cases medical staff refused to treat persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

The LGBTQI+ rights NGO ACCEPT reported that as of October a criminal investigation was pending against several police officers who allegedly abused a transgender woman. According to ACCEPT, in December 2020 several members of the Bucharest police forcefully removed the woman from a bus following a verbal argument she had with passengers who harassed her. Police restrained her, threw her on the ground, handcuffed her, and forced her into their car. The victim stated that while in custody, police made transphobic and homophobic remarks, used physical violence, threatened to intern her in a psychiatric hospital, and took pictures while humiliating her.

According to ACCEPT, hate crimes were severely underreported and authorities have not initiated prosecution in any reported LGBTQI+ hate crime case since 2006.

A survey of LGBTQI+ persons carried out by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in 2020 revealed that 15 percent of respondents had experienced a physical or sexual attack motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity during the previous five years. Of the respondents who described the most recent physical or sexual attacks, only 4 percent reported the incidents to authorities due to fear of discrimination. As many as 28 percent of respondents indicated fear of a homophobic reaction, transphobic reaction, or both from police as the reason for not reporting a physical or sexual attack.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. NGOs reported that societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was common but severely underreported. The legal provisions governing legal gender recognition for transgender persons were vague and incomplete. In some cases authorities refused legal gender recognition unless an individual had first undergone sex reassignment surgery.

In January the ECHR ruled on a case involving two transgender persons who, between 2013 and 2017, requested the courts to recognize their gender identity. The ECHR noted that the government’s refusal to legally recognize the applicants’ gender reassignment in the absence of sex reassignment surgery amounted to unjustified interference with their right to respect for their private life.

Access to adequate psychological and health services was also limited because some psychologists refused to accept transgender patients and medical staff discriminated against them. Intersex individuals faced several challenges, including extreme social stigma and frequent distrust of doctors, that deterred them from seeking medical treatment. In September the mayor of the city of Iasi tried to cancel a pride march organized by the LGBTQI+ rights NGOs ACCEPT and Rise Out by withholding final approval of the event and citing religious reasons and public opposition. Eventually, the march took place on October 1, as planned by the organizers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions can affiliate with regional, national, or EU union federations, but they may affiliate with only one national organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows workers fired for union activity to challenge their dismissal in court for reinstatement. The law provides for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining, but unions complained there was little enforcement to protect against violations of these rights.

Civil servants generally have the right to establish and join unions. Employees of the Ministry of National Defense, certain categories of civilian employees of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, judges, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and senior public servants, including the president, parliamentarians, mayors, prime minister, ministers, employees involved in security-related activities, and the president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained regarding the requirement to submit lists of union members with their registration application. Since employers also had access to the list, union officials feared this could lead to reprisals against individual unionized employees, particularly dismissals, and hinder the formation of new unions.

The law requires employers with more than 21 employees to negotiate a collective labor agreement but provides no basis for national collective labor agreements. Employers refusing to initiate negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can receive fines. The law permits, but does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. The law requires employers to consult with unions on such topics as imposing leave without pay or reducing the workweek due to economic reasons.

Unions may strike only if they give employers 48 hours’ notice, and employers may challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Although not compulsory, unions and employers may seek arbitration and mediation from the Labor Ministry’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. Unions criticized the Labor Ministry for failing to intervene effectively in cases involving arbitration and mediation efforts.

Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. The law permits strikes only in defense of workers’ economic, social, and professional interests and not for the modification or change of a law. As a result workers may not challenge any condition of work established by law, such as salaries for public servants, limiting the effectiveness of unions in the public sector.

Unions complained that the legal requirement for representativeness, which states that the right to collective bargaining and to strike can be asserted only by a union that represents 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise, was overly burdensome and limited the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer may appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate agreements. It is common for companies to create separate legal entities to which they then transfer employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the necessary threshold for representation.

Unions complained regarding the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities, intended to prevent unofficial agreements to support political parties, due to past abuses by union officials.

Official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal. It is difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations when enforcement was successful. The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacks the power to order reinstatement or other penalties, and employees usually must seek a court order to obtain reinstatement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports that such practices continued to occur, often involving Romani, persons with disabilities, and children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and took limited measures to prevent forced or compulsory labor. The law criminalizes forced labor, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but were not evenly applied in all sectors.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 16 percent of human-trafficking victims officially identified in 2020 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. In 2019 organized-crime investigators detained five individuals on charges of modern slavery. The individuals were accused of having kidnapped and detained several persons with a vulnerable background or mental-health problems; the victims were used for agricultural work without pay, starved, and forced to live in inadequate farm annexes. This case remained pending as of December.

Men, women, and children were subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing. Organized rings, often involving family members, forced persons, including significant numbers of Romani women and children, to engage in begging and petty theft (see section 7.c.).

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

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16. Children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at the age of 15 if the activities do not endanger their health, morality, or safety. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions, includes a list of dangerous jobs, and specifies penalties for offenders. Some examples of hazardous jobs for children include those posing a high risk of accident or damage to health, exposure to psychological or sexual risk, night shifts, exposure to harmful temperatures, and those requiring use of hazardous equipment. Parents whose children carry out hazardous activities are required to attend parental education programs or counseling and may be fined if they fail to do so.

Minors who work have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours per day and no more than 30 hours per week, provided their school attendance is not affected. Businesses that impose tasks incommensurate with minors’ physical abilities or fail to respect restrictions on minors’ working hours can face fines. Many minors reportedly did not attend school while working. Minors have the right to an additional three days of annual leave.

The law requires schools to notify social services immediately if children miss class to work, but schools often did not comply. Social welfare services have the responsibility to reintegrate such children into the educational system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection may impose fines and close businesses where it finds exploitation of child labor. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (ANDPDCA) in the Labor Ministry has responsibility for investigating reports of child labor abuse, but enforcement of child labor laws tended to be lax, especially in rural areas with many agricultural households and where social welfare services lacked personnel and capacity to address child labor violations. The ANDPDCA is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources were inadequate, but penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes like kidnapping. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and ANPDCA dedicated limited resources to prevention programs. According to ANPDCA, 220 children were subject to child labor in 2020, and 35 children were subject to child labor between January and March.

Incidents of child labor were widely believed to be much higher than official statistics. Child labor, including begging, selling trinkets on the street, and washing windshields, remained widespread in Romani communities, especially in urban areas. Children as young as five frequently engaged in such activities, but instances were frequently underreported because official statistics were limited to cases documented by police. Children whose parents worked abroad remained vulnerable to neglect and abuse. During the year the Labor Inspectorate identified four employers who exploited seasonally employed minors in the hospitality industry along the Black Sea coast, although media reports indicated additional, unreported cases. Of the 220 documented cases of child labor in 2020, authorities prosecuted alleged perpetrators in 13 cases, while an additional 103 cases remained under investigation at the end of 2020. Between January and March, 35 child labor abuse cases were investigated; of these, three were closed, 32 were still in progress, and no new criminal investigations were opened.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation because of race, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, social status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, reacting to claims of discrimination rather than adequately engaging in programs to prevent discrimination. Penalties for violations were in general commensurate with those for other types of discrimination, but they were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Romani and migrant workers also occurred. The CNCD investigated employment discrimination cases in both the public and private sectors. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, media reported several cases of medical staff being discriminated against by neighbors and denied access to local shops. Following media reports, there was a wave of public support for the medical staff in question.

The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value. Eurostat reports the pay gap between men and women in the country was 3.3 percent in 2019. While the law provides female employees reentering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age still suffered unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.

There was no systemic integration of persons with disabilities into the workforce, and public bias against persons with disabilities persisted. While NGOs worked to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities in gaining skills and employment, the government lacked adequate programs to prevent discrimination. The law requires companies or institutions with more than 50 employees to employ workers with disabilities for at least 4 percent of their workforce or pay a fine for lack of compliance, which many companies chose to do. In November 2020 the government re-established “sheltered” or “protected units,” enterprises that employ at least three persons with disabilities who represent at least 30 percent of the overall staff and contribute at least 50 percent of the cumulated full-time work hours. Local labor offices had limited success in facilitating employment for persons with disabilities.

NGOs reported that patients suffering from cancer and tuberculosis faced discrimination in the workplace. In 2019 almost one-third of employees with cancer reported they postponed informing their employer of their illness until after treatment, and 17 percent reported a substantial reduction in job duties and responsibilities upon returning to work. The law supports tuberculosis patients by providing monthly food allowances, medical leave, and psychological support but does not contain measures to protect patients from workplace discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level and has nearly tripled in nominal terms since 2012. Approximately one in three employees earned the minimum wage according to the labor ministry. Despite minimum wage increases, 14.9 percent of employed Romanians remained at risk of poverty. During the year the country’s courts ruled in favor of female clothing-factory workers who reported unjustified 50 percent wage cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving public pressure to investigate the allegations, officials confirmed inaccurate shift reporting, unpaid mandatory social insurance contributions, unpaid overtime wages, and worker harassment and intimidation.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or five days. Workers are entitled to overtime pay for weekend or holiday work or work of more than 40 hours. An employee’s workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week on average over a four-month reference period, although exceptions are allowed for certain sectors or professions. The law requires a 48-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers received two days off per week. During reductions in workplace activity for economic or technical reasons, the law allows employers to shorten an employee’s workweek and reduce the associated salary.

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the government extended the category of eligible furlough (technical unemployment) benefits to independently registered businesspersons, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. The government adopted a flexible work plan modeled after Germany’s Kurzarbeit (flexible work) program with the aim of retaining employees on payrolls with joint government and employer contributions. The plan required employers to cover half of full-time wages and the Romanian government to pay 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee, based on the number of hours worked. Kurzarbeit and technical unemployment support was extended in July and was expected to remain in effect through the pandemic state of emergency.

Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints were rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. Starting during the year, the law allows for one of two caretakers of children to receive paid days off for periods when schools are closed; the income is capped at maximum 75 percent of the average economy wage.

In July, 13 members of the Cartel Alfa trade union led a protest caravan from Bucharest to Brussels regarding low wages and poor working conditions in Romania. The protest highlighted the concerns of more than four million Romanians seeking work in other EU countries due to limited opportunities in Romania who were often vulnerable to labor exploitation as migrant workers.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, hours, and minimum wage rates, but it did not effectively enforce all aspects consistently. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes but were not consistently applied. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance in all sectors.

According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce tax burdens for employees and employers alike. Additionally, the Labor Inspectorate collaborated with the National Authority for Fiscal Administration to conduct joint operations to check employers in sectors prone to underreported labor, including the textile, construction, security, cleaning, food-preparation, transportation, and storage industries. These investigations often focused on underpayment of taxes rather than workers’ rights.

The government did not effectively enforce overtime standards. Union leaders complained that overtime violations were the main problem facing their members, since employers often required employees to work longer than the legal maximum without receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries, but compliance and enforcement remained weak. Workers can remove themselves from situations they deemed dangerous to their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The labor inspectorate also had authority over occupational safety and health laws; however, not all workplace accidents were investigated by labor inspectors. Companies investigated minor incidents, while labor inspectors investigated more severe ones, typically those that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries. If appropriate, incidents may be referred for criminal investigation. Union leaders often claimed labor inspectors only superficially investigated workplace accidents, including ones involving fatalities, and that inspectors often wrongly concluded that the victims were at fault in most fatal accidents. In 2019 the country reported three deaths per 100,000 employees resulting from accidents at work.

The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes but were not consistently applied. In November 2021, four persons died at the Babeni Mechanical Factory after explosive products were handled poorly. In August 2021, two workers died and four were hurt on a construction site in Bucharest city center, after a deep ditch collapsed.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional risk bonuses were awarded to healthcare staff caring for COVID-19 patients or for those involved in pandemic response. Peaks in the number of critical cases of COVID-19 added pressure on hospital infrastructure, particularly in intensive care units. Medical staff and patients were hurt and killed in several hospital fire incidents over the year.

Informal Sector: Informal employment continued to affect employees in the agriculture, retail, hospitality, and construction sectors. In 2013 undeclared work represented 18.9 percent of total labor output in the private sector. In 2019 some 25 percent of Romanians admitted they had engaged in undeclared work and 44 percent knew someone who had engaged in undeclared labor.

The prevalence of the minimum wage, a tight labor market, and labor taxation exemptions for vulnerable sectors have made undeclared work less attractive. As a result of a mass outflow of unskilled and skilled labor, the country has experienced a tight labor market. Over the past decade, some 2.7 million Romanians of working age (20 to 64) have moved to other EU countries seeking employment. The construction sector has a higher minimum gross wage (3,000 lei or $728) and is exempt from income tax and health and pension mandatory contributions.

The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for undeclared labor. In accordance with EU regulations, the maximum duration of a temporary contract is 36 months. Workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws, and inspections.

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