Laos

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of “a person” and provides for penalties of four to six years’ imprisonment; there is no law against spousal rape. Sentences are significantly longer and may include life imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 18 or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ to life imprisonment.

Domestic violence is illegal but often went unreported due to social stigma. In September an advocate for women’s rights said gender-based violence had increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enforcement of the domestic violence law varied, and observers reported that violence against women in rural areas was rarely investigated. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury.

The Lao Women’s Union and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs and the Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane, assisted victims of domestic violence by operating shelters, providing a hotline telephone number, and employing counselors.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and may be punished by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its prevalence remained difficult to assess.

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

UNFPA reported that information on and access to sexual and reproductive health services were limited, especially for unmarried youth. Social and cultural barriers restricted access to contraception. Contraceptive commodities were not widely available in rural areas and were often unaffordable.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, including access to emergency contraceptives, where available.

According to 2017 UN estimates, the maternal mortality rate was 185 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 150. Pregnancy and childbirth remained a leading cause of death among women of reproductive age due to limited prenatal and obstetric care and services as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy, especially in rural areas. According to UNFPA, very few medical centers were equipped to deal with obstetric emergencies, especially in small or ethnic minority villages. The adolescent birth rate remained high at 83 births per 1,000 girls between ages 15 and 19.

Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women and men and equal pay for equal work, but in some regions traditional attitudes about gender roles kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of culture-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas.

The Lao Women’s Union operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including by conducting programs to strengthen the role of women; programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in the civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes were frequently higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities.

The law provides for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and bars discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation. The government did not enforce these laws effectively; societal and governmental discrimination persisted against minority ethnic groups.

The country is home to many different ethnic groups; most do not consider themselves indigenous. The Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent of the 50 officially recognized ethnic groups in the country. Several Hmong officials have served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP. Amnestied former Hmong insurgents were subject to official suspicion and scrutiny, and government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.

According to international and local sources, in March government troops launched a new campaign of attacks against groups of Hmong living in the forests near Phou Bia Mountain – an area long associated with alleged insurgent activity – to remove the Hmong from areas targeted for development and foreign investment projects.

Critics continued to charge that the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture adversely affected ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas.

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship if both parents are citizens, regardless of where they are born. Children born of one citizen parent acquire citizenship if born in the country or, when born outside the country’s territory, if one parent has a permanent in-country address. Parents did not register all births immediately. The village chief registers children born in remote areas, and then the local authority adds the name and date of birth of the child in the family registration book. Every family must have a family registration book. If parents fail to register a child at birth, they may request to add the child to the family registration book later.

Children born in the country to parents who are unable to certify their citizenship but who are integrated into society may request citizenship. This requires multiple levels of government approval, including the National Assembly. Not all children born in the country who would otherwise be stateless are able to acquire citizenship.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal through fifth grade, but a shortage of teachers and the societal expectation that children would help their parents with farming in rural areas prevented some children from attending school. For some families, fees for books and school clothes are prohibitively expensive. There were significant differences among ethnic groups in educational opportunities available to children. According to a 2020 UNICEF study, access to early childhood education is slightly higher for girls than boys, and dropout rates slightly lower for girls than boys in primary school. Instruction was not offered in any language other than Lao, which discouraged ethnic minority children from attending school. To increase elementary school attendance by ethnic minority children, the government continued to support the establishment of boarding schools in rural areas countrywide.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, and offenders are subject to re-education programs and unspecified penal measures in more serious cases. There were no reports of cases brought to court under this law.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18, but the law allows marriage as young as 15 with parental consent. According to UNICEF data from 2017, approximately 35 percent of girls married before they reached 18, and 9 percent married before they were 15, a practice particularly common among certain ethnic groups and impoverished rural families.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There is no legal age of consent for minors engaging in consensual sex. In cases involving minors, the law distinguishes between possible consensual sex and rape and poses varying penalties between three and 20 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim and perpetrator. The penalty for possession of child pornography is three months to one year’s imprisonment; the penalty for the dissemination of such material is one to three years.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The government continued efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through periodic raids and training workshops. The government and NGOs hosted seminars in 2020 to train tourism-sector employees how to identify signs of child trafficking and how to report them to authorities but held no such sessions during the year due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

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

There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

Although constitutional protections against discrimination do not apply specifically to persons with disabilities, the law spells out the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and public transportation, while also providing tax exemptions for small businesses owned by persons with disabilities. It includes a provision for persons with disabilities to receive an identification card as part of an effort to collect data on disabilities so the government can provide better and more comprehensive services for persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities said the law broadly defined the rights of such persons but did not indicate how outcomes, such as accessible facilities or increased employment opportunities, would be achieved. Little information was available regarding discrimination in the workplace, although persons with disabilities reported it was difficult sometimes to access basic services and obtain employment.

The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is also involved in addressing health-related needs of persons with disabilities and continued to coordinate with international NGOs.

The law requires construction projects begun after 2009 to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities, particularly buildings and public transportation services. The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings built before 2009, but Ministry of Labor regulations resulted in construction of additional sidewalk ramps during the year.

The government continued to implement its strategic plan to protect the rights of children with disabilities and enable them to study alongside other children in schools countrywide. The nongovernmental Lao Disabled People’s Association noted that in many cases students with disabilities lacked access to appropriate educational resources.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, or government services. There were no official reports of discrimination, but observers said societal stigma and concern about repercussions led some to withhold reporting incidents of abuse.

There were no legal impediments to organized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) groups or activities, but local activists reported they did not attempt to hold activities they believed the government would deem sensitive or controversial.

Some societal discrimination in employment and housing reportedly persisted; there were no government efforts to address it. Local activists explained that most openly LGBTQI+ persons did not attempt to apply for government or high-level private-sector jobs because there was tacit recognition that employers would not hire them. LGBTQI+ advocates said that while the country still had a conservative and traditional society, gay and lesbian persons were becoming more integrated, although the transgender population continued to face high levels of societal stigma and discrimination.

Malaysia

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. The law does not recognize marital rape as a crime.

Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists. The NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that from January through September, it received 1,662 complaints involving domestic violence, and the number of survivors seeking shelter increased one and a half times during the same period. There was a lack of investigation into accusations of rape and gender-based violence, and little accountability.

In January a male inmate raped a 16-year-old girl, also an inmate, at a local police station in Miri, Sarawak State. The NGO EDICT declared police violated the legal mandate that at least one female officer be assigned to take care of underage female inmates. Police suspended two officers pending investigation.

Although the government and NGOs maintained shelters and offered other assistance to victims of domestic violence, activists asserted that support mechanisms remained inadequate. Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could file reports without going to a police station. There was also a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assigned psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support. NGOs reported that the government did not take action in cases of domestic violence; victims must keep evidence, gather witness testimony, and ensure their own safety.

In 2020 the NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that 9 percent of women who had ever been in a relationship experienced domestic violence and such violence was “symptomatic of a deeper problem: gender inequality.” A November report by the organization found that 53 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was a “normal” reaction to stress or frustration, and 43 percent believed a woman could so anger a man that he hit her without meaning to, suggesting a culture deeming such violence acceptable “when perceived as an emotional gesture, or in the event the victim has behaved in a way that triggers the abuse.” In Penang State, police as of July recorded a 35 percent increase in domestic-violence cases compared to 2020. Penang police chief Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain observed that factors driving the rise in domestic violence were pressure and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and it was a common practice among Muslim and some indigenous communities. While recent data was very limited, a 2012 study by a professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Malaya, found that more than 93 percent of approximately 1,000 Muslim women surveyed in three of the country’s 13 states had undergone the procedure. Ministry of Health guidelines allow the practice in general but only at government health-care facilities, which was not always the case. Advocates and the international medical community remained concerned that the Health Ministry endorsement legitimizes the harmful practice and contributes to the “medicalization” of FGM. Women’s rights groups contended a 2009 fatwa by the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs declaring the practice obligatory made FGM/C more prevalent. According to an investigation published by local media in 2018, there are no standard procedures for the practice and “in some cases box cutters and stationery store blades are used.” Government officials defended the practice during a UN review in 2018, when a Ministry of Health official stated that the practice was performed only by medical professionals and compared it to immunization programs for female babies. The UN panel urged the country to abolish the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his or her position to intimidate a subordinate by any conduct that is sexual in nature. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of the difficulty of proving the offense and the lengthy trial process.

In April two members of parliament accused then deputy inspector general of police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, since promoted to inspector general, of trivializing a rape threat made against a teenage girl. In separate statements Batu Kawan member Kasthuri Patto and Petaling Jaya member Maria Chin Abdullah criticized Acryl Sani for his remarks about a police report made by a student, age 17, that a classmate had threatened to rape her after she called out her teacher for making jokes about rape. Acryl Sani was reported to have commented that the classmate’s rape threat was possibly a joke. After this incident, more than 300 former and sitting students issued anonymous statements, with the hashtag #MakeSchoolsASaferPlace, recounting sexual harassment and abuse they had experienced at school by teachers and fellow students.

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

In April, news portal Malaysiakini submitted to the Ministry of Education a list of 15 schools that allegedly required female students to undergo intrusive physical examinations to prove that they were menstruating and hence exempted from prayers. Malaysiakini reported that the practice of period spot checks dated as far back as 20 years. The measures included school officials forcing girls to show their blood-soaked sanitary pads; doing swabs of their vaginas with cotton buds, tissues, or fingers; or patting them down to feel if they were wearing a sanitary pad.

Cultural barriers and government policies impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. For example, sexual health education remained limited for all women, although more accessible for married women than for unmarried women. Reproductive awareness advocates and NGOs that provided sexual health education were frequently accused of encouraging sin and eliciting sexual behaviors. Government-run family planning clinics often would not provide contraceptive services to unmarried young persons.

One-Stop Crisis Centers, an integrated multiagency service in the emergency department of most major public hospitals, provided support, including emergency contraception, to victims of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender and gives men and women equal property rights, although sharia, which deviates from these principles in some areas, was sometimes applied. For instance, Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. Sharia also generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, but a small and steadily increasing number of women obtained divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslims are not subject to sharia. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Nevertheless, four states – Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang – extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers.

The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).

No laws provided for the protection of members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups against violence and discrimination. The constitution gives ethnic Malays and indigenous groups, collectively known as bumiputra, a “special position” in the country. Government regulations and policies provided extensive preferential programs to boost the economic position of bumiputra, a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for non-bumiputra (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels. Government procurement and licensing policies favored bumiputra-owned businesses. The government claimed these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.

The government and politicians often incited or condoned violence or abuse of members of racial or ethnic minorities. For example, a government unit charged with tightening border controls posted an illustration on social media that showed armed naval vessels threatening a boat and captioned it, “Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcome” (section 2.f., Access to Asylum). The minister of home affairs stated refugees might “lead to various social ills.”

In October, according to media reports, a senior politician from the Bersatu party, Borhanuddin Che Rahim, used an ethnic slur to describe an ethnic Indian member of the national badminton team. Also in October, in a widely viewed TikTok video, Muslim preacher Syakir Nasoha accused members of religious and ethnic minorities of “killing Muslims,” sparking fears this could incite violence against Buddhists (largely citizens of Chinese descent), Hindus (largely citizens of Indian descent), and Dayaks (an indigenous community of Sarawak and Sabah states).

The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous persons with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights.

Indigenous persons in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, who number approximately 200,000, constituted the poorest group in the country and had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. The constitution provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak” but does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions.

The courts have ruled that the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution, but NGOs contended the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government may seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between indigenous communities and logging companies over land, and uncertainty over their land tenure made indigenous persons vulnerable to exploitation.

In February the High Court ruled against the Semelai Orang Asli claim for customary rights over a plot of land in Pahang State to make way for an oil palm cultivation project. In 2013 the state government had awarded Sri Jengka, a semi-state government corporation, a 99-year lease on the 1,618-acre tract. In September, however, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision, citing improper procedures by the company in taking possession of land with a customary right claim.

In April the Selangor State government issued an eviction notice to the Mah Meri Orang Asli for illegally infringing upon government land, nine days after the state government’s investment arm, Permodalan Negri Selangor Bhd, had awarded a 99-year lease for 101.62 acres of land in Mukim Sepang, Selangor, to a private ecotourism development company. The notice warned residents they could be fined up to 500,000 ringgit ($120,000), serve a five-year jail term, or both, if found guilty of the offense of building structures on government land.

Birth Registration: A child born in the country obtains citizenship if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth and the parents are married. Parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registers children born to refugees (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons).

In September the High Court ruled that mothers who are citizens have the right to confer citizenship to their children born overseas on an equal basis with men who are citizens, but the government appealed the decision. Family Frontiers president Suriani Kempe lamented “a missed opportunity” for the government to “rectify this discrimination and make amends to its women who have been negatively impacted for over 60 years by their inability to obtain citizenship for their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men.” After the Attorney General’s Chambers filed the appeal, NGO Lawyers for Liberty coordinator Zaid Malek termed the government position “unacceptable” and declared that mothers with foreign spouses and children born overseas “live in fear that their children could be rendered stateless.”

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years of school) for citizens and permanent residents, although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are open to some UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to the children of illegal immigrants.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. Muslim women younger than 16 may marry with the approval of a sharia court. Indigenous persons are governed by customary laws with no fixed minimum age for marriage. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape. Advocates remained concerned that Rohingya refugee families were resorting to child marriage for their girls to cope with economic hardship.

The government’s national five-year roadmap for 2021-25 targets child marriage. The plan outlined policies to increase access to education and attendance in schools, increase access to health education, address stigma and social norms on child marriage, and specify laws and guidelines on child marriages that are in line with government policies guarding the well-being of children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law bans child pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part as a participant or an observer in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Federal police reported approximately 20,000 internet addresses in the country uploading and downloading child pornography. By law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is 16 for both boys and girls. The involvement in making or producing child pornography carries a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment and not fewer than six strokes of a cane; conviction for accessing or possessing child pornography carries a punishment of five years’ imprisonment or a fine; conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

There is a special court for sexual crimes against children, established to speed up trials that often took years to conclude. Commercial sexual exploitation of children existed, and a local NGO estimated in 2015, the last year with reported data, that 5,000 children were involved in sex work in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas. Authorities, however, often treated children exploited in commercial sex as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.

The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including sex trafficking.

The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest.

As of April, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development recorded 2,040 cases of child abuse. Of the total, 30 percent were physical and sexual abuse.

A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence, which posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.

In May police reported an increase in cases involving child pornography during the movement control order period from March 2020 to April 2021, including child grooming without physical contact using words or showing obscene sexual acts to children.

In June the Royal Malaysian Police Sexual, Women, and Child Investigation Division reported an increase in the number of reports of child rape by older family members during the various movement control orders. The division’s principal assistant director, Siti Kamsiah Hassan, told media that police received an average of 15 incest cases every month during the year.

In August, Alladin Lanim was arrested for online child exploitation and sentenced to 48 years and six months in prison and 15 strokes of the cane after joint investigations by the Royal Malaysian Police and Australian Federal Police revealed he was sexually abusing children at a plantation in Sarawak State and sharing the material online. Alladin, one of the child sex offenders most wanted by global law enforcement authorities, was linked to at least 34 victims between ages two and 16; he had uploaded more than 1,000 images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children over the course of 14 years.

Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah State. Estimates of the street-child population ranged from a few thousand to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving their children without guardians. Lacking citizenship, access to schooling, or other government-provided support, these children often resorted to menial labor and criminal activities to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, including forced begging.

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

The country’s Jewish population was estimated at 100-200 persons, consisting mostly of foreign residents. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population. The religious NGO Ikram warned that some residents rejected the COVID-19 vaccine, believing it to be part of the “Jewish agenda,” that it contained nonhalal ingredients and tracking chips, and that it could cause death.

There were restrictions on Israeli citizens entering the country.

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

The law affords persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access for persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “friendly” to persons with disabilities, the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for such persons.

Employment discrimination occurred against persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.

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

All same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” In February the Federal Court nullified a Selangor State law on same-sex sexual conduct. The verdict ruled on an appeal of a Selangor State sharia court’s 2019 conviction of a man for “intercourse against the order of nature.” The Federal Court found that existing federal legislation outlawing the same conduct for the same reason preempted the state law, meaning it was unconstitutional and hence the case should not have been brought nor ruled on by the sharia court. This verdict could potentially nullify some strict anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) legislation at the state level that uses the same rationale as the federal laws. Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a., Nongovernmental Impact).

In June then deputy religious affairs minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary proposed that social media postings that “promote LGBTQ lifestyles” and “insult Islam” be punishable offenses under sharia. Ahmad Marzuk also announced a special multiagency government task force, including the government multimedia agency and police, to monitor posts related to LGBTQI+ issues. Activist Numan Afifi expressed concerns about the “escalation and trend towards more prosecution against the LGBTQI+ community in Malaysia,” including separate proposals in April to increase sentencing terms against LGBTQI+ offenses under sharia. SUHAKAM urged the government to reconsider its decision to impose heavier punishments for offenses associated with the LGBTQI+ community. SUHAKAM commissioner Hishamudin Yunus declared the best approach towards LGBTQI+ individuals was to “help integrate them into mainstream society” by respecting their constitutional rights to equality, privacy, and a life of dignity. Speaking to local media, the former Court of Appeal judge declared it should not be acceptable to discriminate against the community or to treat its members as criminals.

In June, 40 religious NGOs and educator groups released a joint statement protesting an online program entitled, “School as a Safe Place for Individuals of Various Sexual Orientations,” alleging the event supported the “open promotion of LGBTQI+ elements in schools.” The statement argued that schools “must be saved from elements of pro-unnatural sex orientations and transgenderism ideology that are against religious teachings.” The online program proceeded as scheduled.

Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense face a token fine and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions are fines and up to three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.

In January the Selangor Islamic Religious Department detained transgender social media influencer Nur Sajat for questioning regarding an online video of her saying Islamic prayers in women’s clothing in 2018. Religious department officers allegedly beat and slapped her while in custody. They subsequently charged her with “defamation of Islam,” punishable by a fine, up to three years’ imprisonment, or both, and released her on bail. Nur Sajat failed to appear for her court date on February 23, citing a medical condition. Her lawyer presented a medical leave certificate to the court the next day, but the judge rejected it. The religious department then issued a warrant for her arrest without bail and sent department officers looking for her, with police support. Nur Sajat crossed into Thailand, and UNHCR granted her refugee status.

In September the Perlis State Fatwa Committee declared that men “who appear like women” such as “cross-dressers” or transgender individuals were forbidden from entering mosques while “not in gender-conforming appearances.” Penang State mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor suggested that transgender individuals “should change their appearance” if they wanted to be in mosques or suraus (Islamic assembly buildings) so that “they do not look odd and avoid uncomfortable feelings among other worshippers.” Representatives from the NGO Sisters in Islam observed that “the fatwa and statement of the mufti not only contradicts the federal constitution” but was “not in accordance with inclusive Islamic traditions.”

A 2018 survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.

State religious authorities reportedly forced LGBTQI+ persons to participate in “conversion therapy,” “treatment,” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In a September response to a parliamentary inquiry, Prime Minister Sabri wrote that as of June, a total of 1,733 individuals from the LGBTQI+ community had been sent to a rehabilitation camp run by the Islamic Development Department, a government agency. The camp, called the Mukhayyam Program, was a government initiative designed to change the lifestyle and sexual orientation of LGBTQI+ individuals. Sabri added that the government was serious about the issue, “as Malaysia is a country that adheres to the religion of Islam.”

In September religious authorities in Kelantan State posted fliers in public places such as shopping malls and grocery stores warning the community about LGBTQI+ persons and the need to be vigilant against their influence. On November 1, Kelantan’s Sharia Criminal Code (I) Enactment 2019 came into force, criminalizing 24 new offenses applying to Muslims. Although the code’s five offenses infringing the rights of LGBTQI+ persons – “sodomy,” “homosexual activities involving women,” “changing gender,” “crossdressing as a female,” and “crossdressing as a male” – were not among the newly added crimes, observers expressed concern about the implications for the LGBTQI+ community. The NGO Sisters in Islam declared that Kelantan first minister Ahmad Yakob’s characterization of the code as “restorative and retributive” posed “a grave concern” and asked what this meant for actions deemed crimes under the code in the context of the “looming tabling” of legislation in federal parliament allowing sharia courts to mete out stiffer penalties. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism urged the Kelantan government to review its “recently enforced” law, including “punishments against homosexual activities and a slew of other offenses.” There were no reports of the revised code being used to prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals at year’s end.

LGBTQI+ persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.

Philippines

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction may also result in a lifetime ban from political office. The law applies to both men and women. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women (and children) committed by spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or significant fines.

Difficulty in obtaining rape convictions impeded effective enforcement on rape cases. NGOs noted that in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.

Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the national police. As of August the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,424 cases of rape during the year, a slight increase from the number recorded during the same period of 2020, involving female and child victims. Of these, 2,202 were referred to prosecutors, 952 were filed in court, 1,252 remained under investigation, and 74 were referred to another agency. As of July the Bureau of Corrections had 7,958 inmates convicted of rape.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the national police, reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 7,093 in January to July 2020 versus 5,282 for the same period during the year. Local and international organizations observed an alarming rise of cases of abuse against women and children during the community quarantine.

NGOs reported that cultural and social stigma deterred many women from reporting rape or domestic violence. NGOs and media reported that rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. In August a new police officer and a local official were accused of sexually molesting and raping a 19-year-old female quarantine violator who was accosted at a quarantine control point in Mariveles, Bataan Province. The woman was taken to the police officer’s boarding house and reportedly raped.

The PNP and the Social Welfare Department both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and to encourage reporting. The national police’s Women and Children Protection Center also operated a national hotline for reports of violence against women and children. In addition the social welfare department operated residential centers and community-based programs to assist women and children who were victims of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse. By the end of the second quarter, the department reported it had assisted 41 women and girls who were specifically victims of sexual abuse, of whom 27 were raped. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers received gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The national police maintained a women and children’s unit in approximately 1,784 police stations throughout the country with 1,905 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The PNP assigned 4,882 officers to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women. The law provides 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment from one to six months, a moderate fine, or both. Sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.

Relevant law is intended to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. Despite the president’s support for a law preventing sexual harassment, local organizations observed that on multiple occasions Duterte’s rhetoric promoted violence against women.

In a July 17 Facebook post and official statement, the Center for Women’s Resources group criticized an official at the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Emergency Operations Command for allegedly harassing and mistreating women related to victims of the government’s drug war during a July 16 protest at the department. The center urged the department and other concerned government agencies to act against the official for violating the Safe Spaces Act.

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

Although the law requires that women in non-life-threatening situations secure spousal consent to obtain reproductive health care, the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution upholds the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Although the law provides for universal access to methods of contraception, sexual education, and maternal care, it also allows health practitioners to deny reproductive health services based on their personal or religious beliefs in nonemergency situations; requires spousal consent for women in non-life-threatening situations to obtain reproductive health care; requires minors in non-life-threatening situations to get parental consent before obtaining reproductive health care; and does not require private health-care facilities to provide access to family-planning methods.

Provision of health-care services is the responsibility of local governments, and disruptions in the supply chain, including procurement, allocation, and distribution of contraceptives, reduced their availability to the poor, although modern forms of contraception were available on the market in most areas.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence and protection for rape victims, including emergency contraception.

According to the 2020 UN Human Development Report, the maternal mortality ratio was 121 per 100,000 live births, and skilled attendants participated in 84 percent of births. The Philippine Commission on Population and Development attributed the increase in maternal deaths to mothers not getting optimal care in hospitals and other birthing facilities during the pandemic. The UN Population Fund reported, based on its 2016 analysis of maternal death review, that poverty, remote locations, and a lack of education exacerbated delays in seeking potentially life-saving maternal medical care; that midwives at times had little formal training; and that medical personnel routinely mistreated and denied proper care to women who sought assistance for complications from unsafe abortions.

The World Bank reported in 2019 that the adolescent birth rate was 55 per 1,000 for women between ages 15 and 19. A June 25 executive order implementing measures to address the rise in adolescent pregnancy noted, “girls already living in dysfunctional homes spend more time with their households as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are thereby more exposed to abuse.” International media and women’s health NGOs cited limited access to adequate sex education and contraceptives as a driving factor of adolescent births. Experts estimated the pandemic lockdowns will cause more than five million women in the country to lose access to reproductive health care. The University of the Philippines and the UN Population Fund warned of a “baby boom” resulting from this loss of access to health care.

In 2019 the UN Population Fund stated that reaching displaced pregnant women to provide critical health services in conflict and crisis-affected areas, particularly Mindanao, was a challenge.

Discrimination: In law although not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grants men more property rights than women.

No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring.

The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized divorces obtained in other countries if one of the parties was a foreigner. These options, however, were costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation was common but brought with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.

The law provides for the protection of every Filipino and prohibits discrimination of individuals based on ethnicity, race, and religion or belief; however, the government stated in its July report to the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination that there is no formal, legal definition of racial discrimination in the country, resulting in little to no reporting of such cases.

Although no laws discriminate against indigenous peoples, cultural bias and the geographical remoteness of the areas many inhabit prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. The law requires that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils, but the rate of compliance with the law was unknown. Indigenous leaders observed that the selection process for mandatory indigenous representatives was frequently ignored or rejected by local governments and politicians.

Lumad (a group of indigenous ethnic communities in Mindanao) schools and students were subject to red-tagging, often resulting in raids by the security forces, illegal arrests, and forced closure of community schools. In February police raided the University of San Carlos’s Talamaban campus in Cebu City, calling the raid a rescue operation, and arrested 26 Lumad students and teachers. The university had provided refuge to the students after they were evacuated from their residences due to armed conflict.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, a government agency staffed by tribal members, was responsible for implementing constitutional provisions to protect indigenous peoples. It has authority to award certificates identifying “ancestral domain lands” based on communal ownership, thereby stopping tribal leaders from selling the land. Indigenous rights activist groups criticized the indigenous peoples’ commission, noting that it approved projects on ancestral lands without the free, prior, and informed consent required by law.

Armed groups frequently recruited from indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples’ lands were also often the site of armed encounters related to resource extraction or intertribal disputes, which sometimes resulted in displacement or killings.

In June an unarmed group of six members of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur, including a 12-year-old girl, were fired on by soldiers, allegedly without any provocation or warning. Three of the group – a man, woman, and 12-year-old girl – died. The military claimed they were pursuing the group, which it asserted were members of the NPA, when they opened fire on the soldiers, precipitating a 10-minute firefight.

On December 31, 2020, nine leaders of the Tumandok community on Panay Island were killed in an operation by security forces. The Tumandok leaders had led a campaign to oppose the construction of the nearby Jalaur Dam because of its impact on the community’s ancestral lands. On December 11, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict had red-tagged those killed, along with 18 other Tumandok persons who were arrested as alleged members of the NPA.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent and, in certain circumstances, from birth within the country’s territory to alien parents. The government promoted birth registration, and authorities immediately registered births in health facilities. Births outside of facilities were less likely to be registered promptly, if at all. The lack of a birth certificate does not generally result in denial of education or other services, but it may cause delays in some circumstances, for example if a minor becomes involved in the court system.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through age 18, but the quality of education was often poor and access difficult, especially in rural areas where substandard infrastructure makes traveling to school challenging. In-person school has remained closed for two academic years due to COVID-19. Most students, however, had access to education, either in virtual form, through curricular modules delivered to students, or by other means.

Supplemental costs for supplies or uniforms can be a barrier to students from poor families. The Department of Education continued to prioritize improving resources at and access to the most isolated schools, to include increasing the budget during the year for schools in the BARMM, the region with the lowest rate of school attendance. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, the primary school enrollment rate for girls was equal to the rate for boys, while the rate for girls was significantly higher than the rate for boys in secondary and tertiary schools. Although boys and girls participated in education at equal rates, in an April statement the Civil Society for Education Reforms Network noted that gender sensitive curricula and learning materials remained the exception in schools. The network also stated that gender insensitivity among staff and students contributed to school violence.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. In October the Department of Justice decided to pursue sexual abuse charges against a foreign national after the 16-year-old victim dropped out of the case as complainant. As of November, the foreign national was undergoing deportation proceedings and was detained at the Bureau of Immigration because he could not post bail. He allegedly met the victim online, supplied her with drugs, had sex with her, and recorded the victim having sex with another man. Through the second quarter of the year, the social welfare department served 1,550 children in centers and residential care facilities nationwide, a small fraction of those in need. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years; anyone younger than 21 must have parental consent. Under Muslim personal law, Muslim boys may marry at 15, and girls may marry when they reach puberty (no age is specified). The law was generally followed and enforced, but there are no legal penalties for forced and child marriage. While recent data were unavailable, observers believed forced and early marriage remained a problem. For example, records from sharia district courts showed some Muslim girls were married as young as age seven. Advocacy groups pushed for specific legislation banning child and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial exploitation of children and child pornography and defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. The statutory rape law criminalizes sex with minors younger than 12 and sex with a child younger than 18 involving force, threat, or intimidation. The maximum penalty for child rape is 40 years in prison plus a lifetime ban from political office. The production, possession, and distribution of child pornography are illegal, and penalties range from one month to life in prison, plus significant fines, depending on the gravity of the offense. Several human rights groups pushed for an increase in the age of consent (12 as of year’s end), one of the lowest in the world. The government made efforts to address these crimes and collaborated with foreign law enforcement authorities, NGOs, and international organizations.

Inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze computer evidence were among the challenges to effective enforcement. Despite the penalties and enforcement efforts, law enforcement agencies and NGOs agreed that criminals and family members continued to use minors in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities.

Children continued to be victims of sex trafficking, and the country remained a destination for foreign and domestic child sex tourists. Additionally live internet broadcasts of young girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. Children’s vulnerability to online sexual exploitation increased during the pandemic as children were forced to stay home and families’ incomes often fell. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles, deport those who were foreigners, and bar the entry of identified convicted sex offenders. To reduce retraumatizing child victims and to spare children from having to testify, the government increased its use of plea agreements in online child sexual exploitation cases, which significantly reduced the case disposition time. From January to August, the PNP and its partners, through the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, rescued 131 children, arrested 16 perpetrators, and conducted 49 online child sexual exploitation operations.

The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Department of Labor to target and close establishments suspected of sex trafficking of minors. From January to July, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Working Conditions recorded four establishments that employed 24 minors; after being given an opportunity to correct the problem, the establishments complied with the standards and so were not closed.

Displaced Children: While there were no recent, reliable data, involved agencies and organizations agreed there were hundreds of thousands of street children in the country. The problem was endemic nationwide and encompassed local children and the children of IDPs, asylum seekers, and refugees. Many street children were involved in begging, garbage scavenging, and petty crime.

Service agencies, including the social welfare department, provided residential and community-based services to thousands of street children nationwide, including in a limited number of residential facilities and the growing Comprehensive Program for Street Children, Street Families, and Indigenous Peoples. This program included activity centers, education and livelihood aid, and community service programs.

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.

An estimated 2,000 persons of Jewish heritage, almost all foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law aims to provide affordable and accessible mental health services and provide for equal access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings and establishments.

The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated government agency rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance activities to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society. From January to July, the council registered 12 complaints and allegations of abuse and discrimination: three allegations of workplace discrimination; four of ridicule and vilification on social media; two of violations of data privacy; and others of alleged physical abuse and intimidation. The complaints were referred to the appropriate agencies for investigation and provision of necessary assistance.

The law was not effectively enforced, and many barriers remained for persons with disabilities. Disability advocates contended that equal access laws were ineffective due to weak implementing regulations, insufficient funding, and inadequately focused integrative government programs. The great majority of public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many schools had architectural barriers that made attendance difficult for persons with physical disabilities. Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities were limited.

Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and other challenges in finding employment (see section 7.d.).

Some children with disabilities attended schools in mainstream or inclusive educational settings. The Department of Education’s 648 special education programs did not provide nationwide coverage, and the government lacked a clear system for informing parents of children with disabilities of their educational rights and did not have a well defined procedure for reporting discrimination in education.

From January to August, the social welfare department provided services to 1,512 persons with disabilities in assisted living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, a small fraction of the population in need. If a person with disabilities experienced violence, access to after-care services might be available through the social welfare department, crisis centers, and NGOs. Sixty percent of local government units had a persons with disabilities office to assist in accessing services including health, rehabilitation, and education.

The constitution provides for the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote. The Commission on Elections determines the capacity of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions (and inclusions) in court. The law requires the establishment of accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services. Men who have sex with men were banned indefinitely from donating blood.

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

National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Outright International, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) NGO, estimated 29 cities, provinces, barangays, and municipalities had enacted a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects LGBTQI+ rights.

Officials prohibit transgender individuals from obtaining passports that reflect their gender identity. Authorities print the gender at birth, as reported on the birth certificate, in the individual’s passport, which posed difficulty for transgender persons seeking to travel, such as instances of transgender individuals being denied boarding on aircraft.

NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against LGBTQI+ persons, including in employment, education, health care, housing, and social services. On May 18, three men allegedly killed transgender man Ebeng Mayor after raping and physically abusing her. The three reportedly knew Mayor and spent the evening at a bar with her. The alleged killers were arrested on May 22 and faced rape and murder charges. In June a Cotabato City local radio station reported through a social media post, which was later deleted, that residents of Ampatuan town in the BARMM forcibly shaved the heads of neighbors said to be members of the LGBTQI+ community. The alleged perpetrators justified the deed, claiming that “being gay or lesbian is against Islam.” Mindanao LGBTQI+ groups and human rights groups condemned the action, declaring that religion does not justify bigotry.

Singapore

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Under the law rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. There is no marital immunity for rape and the definition of rape is gender neutral. The law imposes up to twice the maximum penalty for offenses affecting the human body – “rape, hurt, or wrongful confinement” – committed by partners in a close or intimate relationship (even if unmarried) than it imposes for these offenses committed outside such relationships. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring a spouse or former spouse from the victim’s home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior. The government enforced the laws on rape and domestic violence.

Identity protection orders are mandatory for sexual crimes or child abuse even before a police report is lodged. Victims of sexual crimes may video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person. Victims may testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person. Lawyers may not ask questions concerning a victim’s sexual history unless the court grants them permission to do so.

Several voluntary welfare organizations that assisted abused women noted gender-based violence was underreported but that the number of reported incidents was increasing, which they stated was the result of advocacy campaigns to address social stigma.

Releasing statistics on family violence for the first time, police in January disclosed that in 2020, 5,135 reports were made, of which 1,115 were referred to family service centers or family violence specialist centers. Reported abuses included causing hurt, using criminal force, assault, criminal intimidation, and wrongful confinement. The Ministry of Home Affairs saw a 10 percent increase in family violence cases every month between April and December 2020, which it attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October a court sentenced a man to 29 years’ imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane for raping his 13-year-old daughter and forcing his 15-year-old son to rape his biological mother. The judge termed the man’s acts “an assault on the basic values of being human.”

In January the Ministry of Social and Family Development launched the country’s first 24-hour national helpline dedicated to addressing family violence and other cases of abuse and neglect, providing support in the country’s four main languages. The helpline received 3,700 calls from January to June. Another 10 helplines to report child abuse and family violence remained in operation.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Types I (a) and IV (as classified by the World Health Organization) FGM/C were practiced among a portion of the Muslim population. There was no legislation banning FGM/C and no official data on how prevalent the practice was, but 75 percent of Muslim women indicated they had undergone FGM/C, according to an End FGC Singapore survey with a sample size of 360 women in late 2020. Some medical clinics offer the procedure, requiring parents to consent and go through counseling, according to the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association. This medicalization, however, contravenes the global normative guidance by the World Health Organization and the UN Population Fund on this harmful practice. End FGC Singapore, a community-based movement, criticized the practice as covert and stated girls often may not know they underwent the procedure until later in life.

Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime, and the law covers harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and imprisonment (see below) on conviction of any charge for “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects to a fine persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior. It also provides a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and enhanced criminal sanctions to protect against harassment. Additionally, stalking is an offense punishable by a fine, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.

The law makes technology-related crimes such as voyeurism and sexual exposure criminal offenses. Doxing (publishing private information regarding a person or organization on the internet with the intent to harass) is also an offense.

In June amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act took effect, increasing protections for victims. It became easier to obtain protection orders; if a person was convicted of any previous harassment or hurt-related offense against the victim, the requirement to show that a provision under the act was contravened is deemed to be satisfied, and a protection order can be granted. Judges granting expedited protection orders must consider whether a criminal investigation is warranted and, if so, refer cases for police investigation. Breaches of orders are arrestable if harm was caused. Protection orders can be extended to persons related to the victim who might be harassed by the perpetrator. Domestic exclusion orders can be granted to protect victims residing with the harasser. The amendment also established a specialized Protection from Harassment Court to hear all criminal and civil harassment cases, such as doxing and threatening behavior, to provide faster relief. Applications for protection orders and orders relating to falsehoods are eligible for simplified court processes through an online portal and may be heard within 24 hours if actual violence or risk of violence is involved. Those who repeatedly breach protection orders are subject to up to twice the normal maximum penalty.

In September amendments to the Penal Code increased penalties for outrage of modesty from two to three years. According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents decreased by 17.8 percent in 2020 to 1,320 incidents.

The women’s rights advocacy group AWARE reported a 36 percent increase in technology-facilitated sexual violence in 2020 with 191 cases. Total cases of sexual violence increased from 777 in 2019 to 967 cases in 2020. In July AWARE and the National Youth Council jointly funded a new website to educate the community on the most common types of online harassment and to provide assistance.

A November 2020 national survey by AWARE found that two in five of the 1,000 respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and that 13 percent had been touched physically. Only one in three victims reported such incidents.

Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year. The government ran awareness campaigns encouraging women to report molestation, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.

Following several sexual harassment cases in recent years, the National University of Singapore reported in August that from January through June, one researcher was dismissed for making inappropriate sexual remarks, sending inappropriate videos to two students, and touching one of them without consent; two students were expelled for sexual misconduct; and there were eight other cases of alleged sexual misconduct involving students.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. Women were well represented in many professions (see section 7.d.).

Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.

Various laws such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the Penal Code criminalize violence and incitement of violence against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities or groups. The government takes a proactive stance in fighting racial and ethnic discrimination and enforces the law effectively. Racially motivated violence was almost nonexistent, and even cases of racial discrimination were rare but did occur.

In May police arrested a 30-year-old ethnic Chinese man for making offensive racial remarks and assaulting a 55-year-old ethnic Indian woman. He was charged with one count of voluntarily causing hurt and one count of uttering words with intent to wound the racial feelings of a person. Court proceedings continued as of December. Prime Minister Lee, President Halimah Yacob, and several ministers condemned the attack and declared it went “against everything” the country’s multiracial society stood for. In July a 33-year-old man was arrested and charged with voluntarily causing hurt and intentional harassment after he punched and kicked an ethnic Chinese university student in a park and used a racist slur against another. Court proceedings continued as of December. Throughout the year individuals who committed racist or racially insensitive verbal offenses were prosecuted and sentenced under the law.

The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills so they do not disadvantage any particular group. It also reports to the government on matters that affect any racial or religious community.

Government measures to mitigate racial and ethnic biases and promote ethnic and racial harmony included mandated representation of all major ethnic groups in elected and non-elected government positions; allocation of public holidays for each racial group; and the use of four official languages, with an emphasis in schools on teaching English as the common language. There was no systemic racial discrimination in terms of access to education.

The opposition and civil society groups criticized various policies for their negative side effects on access to some services and the freedom of choice of residence. They also charged that the government’s policy of assigning each person a race besides the national identity would prevent the society from achieving a post-racial state and that forms of racial discrimination would persist in everyday situations such as house rentals and employment.

Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 15 percent of the population. The constitution recognizes them as the indigenous inhabitants of the country and charges the government with supporting and promoting their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and linguistic interests. The government took steps to encourage educational achievement among Malay students and upgrade skills among Malay workers, including through subsidies for tertiary education fees for poorer Malays. Malay educational performance has improved, although ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels and, some asserted, in certain sectors of the government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued it also was the result of employment discrimination.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents as long as one parent is a citizen of the country and the parents are registered as legally married. The law requires that all births be registered within 42 days. Dual citizens born abroad to citizen parents must renounce their foreign citizenship after turning 21 to retain their citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes mistreatment of children, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The government enforced the law and provided support services for child abuse victims.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 1,313 child abuse cases in 2020, a 21 percent increase from 2019 and the highest number in 10 years.

The courts sentenced several men to long prison terms for sexually abusing their children. In February a perpetrator was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane for raping his daughter. In April and July two other perpetrators were sentenced to 24 strokes of the cane each, and to 28 years’ and 29 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for sexually assaulting their daughters.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law characterizes unmarried persons younger than age 21 as minors and persons younger than 14 as children. Individuals younger than 21 who wish to marry must obtain parental consent, and the couple must attend a mandatory marriage preparation program. Individuals younger than 18 also require a special license from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to wed or, if they are marrying under Muslim law, they require permission from the kadi (a Muslim judge appointed by the president), who should grant permission only under special conditions.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, and authorities enforced the law.

The age of consent for noncommercial sex is 16. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16 is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine, or both, and if the victim is younger than 14 it is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a fine or caning.

The law prohibits commercial sex provided by anyone younger than age 18. Authorities may detain (but generally do not prosecute) persons younger than 18 whom they believe to be engaged in commercial sex. They prosecute those who organize or profit from commercial sex, bring women or girls to the country for commercial sex, or coerce or deceive women or girls into commercial sex.

The law protects minors from sexual exploitation and makes a distinction between child pornography and other types of pornography. It is a separate offense to use or involve a child younger than age 16 in the production of child-abuse material and a crime to be involved in the supply and consumption of child-abuse material. The law criminalizes offenses, such as sexual intercourse, pornography, or sexual grooming, committed in the context of exploitative relationships when the victim was older than age 16 but younger than age 18, even if the victim had consented.

In September the Penal Code was amended to increase the maximum imprisonment from one to two years for engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor between ages 14 and 16 or causing a person of that age to view sexual images. The same penalty applies if the victim was between ages 16 and 18 and the offender was in an exploitative relationship with the minor. By law those convicted under the Penal Code for any offenses committed against vulnerable victims – children younger than age 14, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers (see section 7.e.) – are subject to up to twice the maximum penalty.

In January the High Court sustained the prosecution’s appeal in the case of a 25-year-old man who had sex with a then 13-year-old in 2017 and increased his prison sentence from 24 to 33 months.

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.

Although estimates varied widely, the government estimated there were approximately 2,500 members in the Jewish community. In February, following a tip-off from the Ministry of Defense, authorities detained Amirull bin Ali, a 20-year-old man, under the ISA for planning to attack and kill Jewish worshippers with a knife at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue. According to the government, Amirull, a full-time national serviceman with the Singapore Armed Forces when arrested, had been self-radicalized online. The government stated this was the first time an individual was motivated by the Israel-Palestine conflict to plot an attack in the country (section 1.d.).

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

There is no comprehensive legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment or preventing discrimination.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and coordinates implementation of the government’s 2017-21 policy plan for programs and services in the disability sector, which focuses on greater inclusiveness. The law provides grants, legal protection, and training to employers and persons with disabilities to provide better safeguards for employees, including persons with disabilities.

In December 2020 the government launched an Enabling Lives Initiative grant for public education to build positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities. In April it launched a pilot program to improve case management support for persons with disabilities who had high support needs and their families. Three SGUnited Jobs and Skills schemes were also set in motion during the year for persons with disabilities: place-and-train programs, attach-and-train programs, and skills development programs. Sign-language interpretation was provided for live televised broadcasts of key national communications, and all public buses were wheelchair accessible. These initiatives formed part of the country’s 2017-21 Third Enabling Masterplan, a national road map to building a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.

The government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility and standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. The SG Enable program, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, administered several assistance schemes for persons with disabilities, and provided a job training and placement program for them. In July a “Caregiver Action Map” was launched to provide social service agencies and other organizations that seek to develop or improve support for caregivers of persons with disabilities with guidance on how this could be achieved. The map was developed by the Coalition of Partners for Caregivers Support and will be facilitated by SG Enable and the Institute of Policy Studies.

The country’s 2020 census for the first time included data on persons with disabilities, defined as persons who had difficulties performing basic activities such as seeing, hearing, remembering, self-care, communicating, or moving around. In total, 97,600 residents ages five and older had difficulties performing at least one basic activity. Organizations supporting persons with disabilities welcomed the data to help address specific community needs but criticized the omission of specific reference to persons with disabilities.

The government reported that in 2020 companies hired more than 9,200 persons with disabilities through use of government-sponsored support programs, an increase of 2.2 percent from 2019.

The Disabled People’s Association, an advocacy group, indicated that discrimination against persons with disabilities was underreported because affected individuals either did not file a complaint or were unaware of their rights and the available resources. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received an average of two complaints per year of discrimination against persons with disabilities between 2014 and the first half of 2021. The Disabled People’s Association also reported private discrimination against persons with disabilities who were seeking employment.

The country provided a high level of educational support for children and minors with disabilities from preschool to university. Children with moderate to severe educational needs were required to participate in compulsory education until they reached age 15. Elementary and secondary levels both included mainstreaming programs and separate education schools. All primary schools and most secondary schools had specialist support for students with mild disabilities. Mainstreaming programs catered primarily to children with physical disabilities. Separate education schools, which focused on children who required more intensive and specialized assistance, were operated by social service organizations and involved a means-tested payment of fees. The Special Educational Needs Support Offices, established in all publicly funded tertiary education institutions including universities, provided support for students. Informal provisions permitted university matriculation for those with visual, hearing, or physical disabilities through assistive technology devices and services such as note taking.

The law allows voters who are unable to vote in the manner described by law to receive assistance from election officials, who are under oath to maintain voting secrecy. For the 2020 general election, the government improved support for persons with disabilities. Voters with visual disabilities could cast their vote independently with stencils, wheelchair users could use a portable booth placed on their laps, and those with physical disabilities could instruct election officials to mark the ballot paper on their behalf. Polling stations were barrier-free with special drop-off points.

In February a 34-year-old woman was sentenced to 8.5 years’ imprisonment for physically abusing a woman with a mild intellectual disability. The perpetrator pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntarily causing hurt and one count of twisting the victim’s toe with a pair of pliers until it fractured. She had splashed hot water on the victim and used a hammer to strike her mouth, causing her to lose two teeth. She and her family had repeatedly abused the victim, now age 30, since 2016.

Although no legislation bars employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their HIV status, government guidelines for employers state that employees who are dismissed based on their medical status, including HIV-positive status, have grounds for wrongful dismissal claims against their employers. Many persons living with HIV were, however, afraid to disclose their status during the job application process and, during employment, feared dismissal if they were discovered to have made a false declaration.

The government discouraged discrimination, supported initiatives that countered misperceptions regarding HIV or AIDS, and publicly praised employers that welcomed workers with HIV or AIDS. HIV-positive foreigners, however, were barred from obtaining work permits, student visas, or immigrant visas.

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

Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalizes consensual male-male sexual conduct, subject to up to two years’ imprisonment. Authorities have not enforced this law since 2010 and have stated since then that they do not intend to do so. There were no indications the provision was used intentionally to intimidate or coerce. Its existence, however, intimidated some gay men, particularly those who were victims of sexual assault but would not report it to police for fear of being charged with violating Section 377A.

In January the Court of Appeal heard the appeal of three plaintiffs against a March 2020 High Court decision to dismiss a constitutional challenge to section 377A. In the hearing Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon declared that the 2007 political compromise to keep section 377A but not enforce it should be factored in when determining whether the law should be repealed. The court reserved judgment and a decision was pending as of October.

No laws explicitly protect the LGBTQI+ community from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, since single persons are prevented from purchasing government housing reserved for married couples until age 35 and same-sex marriage is not permitted, LGBTQI+ couples were unable to receive certain government services and benefits available to other citizens before reaching 35.

Same-sex partners were covered under the Protection from Harassment Act and enjoyed access to legal protections such as expedited protection orders in cases of harassment or violence, including by close and intimate partners.

LGBTQI+ persons experienced discrimination in the military, which classifies individuals by sexual orientation and evaluates them on a scale of “effeminacy” to determine fitness for combat training and other assignments. Openly gay servicemen faced threats and harassment from their peers and were often ostracized.

Individuals were prohibited from updating their gender on official documents unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery.

Critics remained concerned that media censorship resulted in underrepresentation of the LGBTQI+ community. In September, Heckin’ Unicorn, a local firm that sells pride products, maintains a blog, and supports LGBTQI+ initiatives, stated that in regulating media content with a classification system, the IMDA “through its legally enforceable guidelines” played “a huge part in erasing LGBTQ+ voices in Singapore.” The IMDA censored films and television shows with LGBTQI+ themes. According to the IMDA website, authorities allow the broadcast of LGBTQI+ themes on television “as long as the presentation does not justify, promote, or glamorize such a lifestyle” (see section 2.a.).

In July police began to investigate a 23-year-old man who threatened violence against the LGBTQI+ community in a viral Instagram video and later issued him a 12-month conditional warning for criminal intimidation and intentionally causing alarm. Also in July police issued a two-year conditional warning to a man for harassing the staff of a restaurant in January and throwing at the staff a pride flag the shop had displayed.

The rights of transgender persons and the use of hormone therapy prompted a wider public debate after a transgender student accused the Ministry of Education in a January Reddit post of preventing her from beginning hormone replacement therapy and threatening to expel her from her all-boys school if she did not wear the boys’ uniform. Rejecting the accusations, the ministry stated it was in no position to interfere with a medical treatment and that the decisions lay with clinics and the parents in the case of minors. Several LGBTQI+ advocacy groups expressed solidarity with the student and declared that transgender persons faced violence and discrimination at home and in schools. This resulted in an unauthorized protest outside the ministry (see section 2.b.). In a parliamentary debate, then education minister Lawrence Wong cautioned that “issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some western countries and societies. We should not import these culture wars into Singapore or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society.”

Thailand

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law narrowly defines rape as acts in which male sex organs were used to physically violate victims, thereby leaving victims assaulted by perpetrators in other ways without legal remedies. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.

NGOs said rape was a serious problem and that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.

According to NGOs, agencies tasked with addressing the problem were underfunded, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic-violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern that the law’s family unity approach put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety problems and led to a low conviction rate.

Authorities prosecuted some domestic-violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. The government operated shelters for domestic-violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs and international media reported Type IV FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The law specifies a fine and a jail term of one month for sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a fine and a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment in the workplace may be punished by modest fines. The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection for additional information.)

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”

Human rights advocates expressed concern regarding lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints and a lack of awareness among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men but sometimes experienced discrimination, particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months, a fine, or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedure by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.

Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.

Women comprised approximately 12 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital or medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.

Women are barred from applying to the police academy. The Royal Thai Police continued to list “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for police investigators and other positions, although in 2020 police did permit 300 women (and 700 men) to take police investigator examinations.

The constitution includes provisions aimed at protecting the traditional culture and way of life for ethnic minorities, and stipulates all persons are equal before the law, including equal protection. During the year, however, there were reports of violence and discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups.

Stateless members of hill tribes (approximately 50 percent) faced restrictions on their movement, were not permitted to own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor law gives them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law further bars them from government welfare services but affords them limited access to government-subsidized medical treatment.

The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.g.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill-tribe members regarding their rights.

In February authorities arrested 22 ethnic-Karen villagers in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi Province after the villagers defied orders to vacate the land. Park officials decided to evict the villagers from the Jai Paendin area of the Kaeng Krachan National Park after discovering the number of illegal settlers in the park had increased and more forest land had been cleared for crop rotation. The land evictions were met with protests by civil society groups, who claimed the Jai Paendin area was the villagers’ ancestral land before it became a national park in 1981. On March 7, a court in Phetchaburi released the 22 villagers without bail on the condition that they do not return to the Jai Paendin area of the national park.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.g.). The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. In remote areas some parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to administrative complexities and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document. In the case of hill-tribe members and other stateless persons, NGOs reported misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to register births.

Education: The constitution provides for 12 years of free education. NGOs reported children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers had limited access to government schools.

Child Abuse: The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child. The penalties for raping a child younger than age 15 range from four to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. Those convicted of abandoning a child younger than age nine are subject to a jail term of three years, a fine, or both. The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than age 18 in abuse and pedophilia cases. Advocacy groups stated police often ignored or avoided child-abuse cases.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17, while anyone younger than 21 requires parental consent. A court may grant permission for children younger than 17 to marry.

In the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, Islamic law used for family matters and inheritance allows the marriage of young girls after their first menstrual cycle with parental approval. The minimum age for Muslims to marry is 17. A Muslim younger than 17 may marry with a written court order or written parental consent, which is considered by a special subcommittee of three members, of which at least one member must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15. Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution. The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography. The law also imposes heavy penalties for sexually exploiting persons younger than 18, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.

Child sex trafficking remained a problem, and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government continued to make efforts to combat the problem. Children from migrant populations, ethnic minority groups, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution. Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children and production and distribution of child pornography.

The Thai Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a police unit with 17 officers, received more than 260,000 tips from NGOs based abroad on potential cases of child sexual exploitation, a significant increase compared with approximately 117,000 tips received in 2019. The task force investigated 94 cases of internet crimes against children in 2020 (77 in 2019), including 22 cases of internet-facilitated child sex trafficking (26 in 2019).

There were numerous reported cases of rape and sexual harassment of girls in school environments. In February a male teacher in Amphoe Phanom Dongrak, Surin, was arrested for the sexual assault of at least 13 female students. The abuse took place over the year, and some were as young as seven. In March a male teacher in a public school in Amphoe Krasang, Buriram, was arrested for the sexual assault of multiple 14-year-old female students. The Ministry of Education operated a Protection and Assistance Center for the Sexually Abused Students to receive complaints and report sexual assault in schools. During the year the ministry produced the 14-page Manual for Prevention of Sexual Abuses in School to distribute to all schools.

Displaced Children: Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation. As of August the government estimated there were 20,000 street children who sought shelter nationwide, 5,000 of whom received assistance from the government or private organizations. In October the NGO Foundation for the Better Life of Children reported approximately 50,000 children were living on the streets, 30,000 of them foreign born. The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social-worker supervision. The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.

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

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions. The law provides tax benefits to employers employing a certain number of persons with disabilities, such as special income-tax deductions to promote employment of such persons.

The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.

The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for Persons with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.

The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for children with disabilities and operated occupational and career development centers for adults with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and most schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day care centers for autistic children.

Organizations for persons with disabilities reported difficulty in accessing information concerning a range of public services.

In previous years disability rights activists alleged that government officials, including from the National Office for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and private companies often contracted with organizations for persons with disabilities to recruit employees with disabilities, an arrangement that could allow dishonest officials and the staff of such organizations to keep a portion of the wages intended for those workers.

Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV or AIDS, despite educational efforts by the government and NGOs. There were reports some employers fired or refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.

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

No law criminalizes expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The LGBTQI+ community reported that police treated LGBTQI+ victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.

The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities.

The UN Development Program and NGOs reported that LGBTQI+ persons experienced discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The UN Development Program also reported media represented LGBTQI+ persons in stereotypical and harmful ways resulting in discrimination.

Legislation mandating gender equality prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his or her own sex by birth” and protects transgender students from discrimination. The country’s Fourth National Human Rights Plan, covering the period 2019-22, includes LGBTQI+ persons as one of 12 groups in its action plan.

NGOs and the United Nations reported transgender persons faced discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and in education because of strict policies in place at most schools and universities that require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender.

The Ministry of Education has a curriculum incorporating discussion of sexual orientation and gender diversity for grades one to 12; this followed two years of advocacy by the LGBTQI+ community. NGOs continued to encourage the Ministry of Education to make the curriculum compulsory and continued to work with the ministry on curriculum development and to organize training courses to prepare teachers to teach it effectively.

Vietnam

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. The Ministry of Public Security reported 244 rapes with 252 suspects of which police investigated 230 cases and 246 suspects.

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

Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women worried about domestic violence and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.

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

Sexual Harassment: The law specifically prohibits sexual harassment only in the workplace. The Labor Code that came into effect in January allows workers to terminate a labor contract immediately without prior notice if the worker is sexually harassed in the workplace. The new Labor Code also requires employers to include sexual harassment in their “labor regulations.” Perpetrators of sexual harassment outside of the workplace may be fined.

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

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Coercive population policies restricted reproductive rights. The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” By law couples or individuals are limited to giving birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. Regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.

The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applicable only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence, and included emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.

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

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

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data (the latest available) from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far greater than the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the topic of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and prohibits gender-based violence and discrimination. Abuses of these provisions were subject to fines or imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities awarded cash incentives for giving birth to girls. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that have two girls a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $57).

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent.

Ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the northwest, Central Highlands, and portions of the Mekong Delta. The constitution recognizes the rights of members of ethnic minorities to use their languages and protect and nurture their traditions and cultures. There were reports, however, that not all members of ethnic minorities were able to engage in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions.

International human rights organizations and refugees continued to allege that authorities monitored, harassed, and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, particularly ethnoreligious minorities in the Central and Northwest Highlands, including Christian H’mong.

Authorities in previous years used national security laws to impose lengthy prison sentences on members of ethnic minorities for their connections to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims, although there was no such example during the year.

Although the government allocated land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, land expropriation in these areas was common. The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. In addition the government supported infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.

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

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

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

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

Certain gender gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.

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

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

Observers concurred that violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. The National Hotline for Child Protection reported large increases (150 percent) in calls involving violence and abuse against children between May and August compared with the first three months of the year. There were also more reports of online child abuses attributed to school closure and social distancing because of COVID-19.

UNICEF stated in 2019 there were no effective interdisciplinary child- and gender-sensitive procedures or processes for handling child-abuse reports and that the responsibilities of government agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem, especially at local levels.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sale, deprivation of liberty, and all acts related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 16. The commercial sexual exploitation of children ages 16 and 17 is not fully criminalized. The law also prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development.

Punishment for sexual exploitation crimes ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction for acts related to the exploitation of children in commercial sex, including harboring commercial sex (12 to 20 years), brokering commercial sex (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.

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

Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children were homeless in 2014 and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.

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

There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or both and protects their right to access education and other state services, but the government struggled to enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social stigmatization. The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transport, the judicial system, and other state services; however, most persons with disabilities faced challenges in exercising their rights.

Services for persons with disabilities were often unavailable, and declared policies were not implemented. For example, while the law requires new construction or major renovations of government and large public buildings to include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement was sporadic, particularly outside major cities.

Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and those with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited.

There is no legal restriction on the right of persons with disabilities to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various education policies. The National Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries worked with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, in-patient physical therapy.

NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding and offering training for disability-related programs from certain provincial governments, which hampered access for international experts to conduct training.

Individuals with HIV continued to face discrimination in finding and holding employment. Being arrested and detained in compulsory rehabilitation centers for continued use of heroin or methamphetamine also prevented drug users from accessing HIV and other health services, although such treatment was considered a basic right of such patients.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. The civil code gives individuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery the right to register their new status, although legislation to implement this was pending as of year’s end.

According to LGBTQI+ persons and NGOs, inaccurate information regarding sexual orientation and gender identity remained pervasive and there was widespread social stigma and discrimination associated with being LGBTQI+, including in schools where LGBTQI+ students often experienced bullying. The belief that same-sex attraction is a diagnosable and curable mental health condition was common, suggesting that LGBTQI+ persons could be at risk of “conversion therapy.” Some lesbians reported corrective rape and forced marriages.

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