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Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.).

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.).

Trafficking in Persons

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

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

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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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future