Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the amir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The most recent parliamentary general election, considered generally free and fair, was held on December 5, and members of the opposition won a majority of the seats.
Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, while the Kuwait State Security oversees national security matters. Both report to the Ministry of Interior, as does the Coast Guard. The Kuwait National Guard is an independent body from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense; it reports to the prime minister and the amir. The armed forces are responsible for external security and report to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and the maintenance of national readiness. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some allegations that members of the security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, internet site blocking, and criminalization of libel; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and criminalization of consensual adult male same-sex sexual conduct.
The government took significant steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and mistreatment by police and security forces against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.
Several noncitizens claimed police or Kuwaiti State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. Since 2017, at least nine foreign nationals, including one still in detention, reported credible cases of abuse or mistreatment during arrest or interrogation by the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate. Some detainees alleged they were beaten with a wooden rod, hung upside down and beaten, or both. In their initial meeting with prisoners, public prosecutors must ask if the prisoner is injured; it is the prisoner’s responsibility to raise the subject of abuse. The prosecutors also look for visible injuries. If a prisoner states they are injured or if the injuries are visible, prosecutors must ask how the injury happened and refer the prisoner to medical professionals.
Numerous activists representing a particular group of stateless persons known as “Bidoon” reported mistreatment at the hands of authorities while in detention. There continued to be allegations from individuals that they were subjected to unlawful detention and physical and verbal abuse inside police centers and State Security detention centers. There are credible indications that police, KSS force members, and the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate abused prisoners during arrest or interrogation. Transgender individuals have reported multiple cases of rape and physical and verbal abuse at the hands of police and prison officials.
The government investigated complaints against police and took disciplinary action when the government determined it was warranted. Disciplinary actions included fines, detention, and removal or termination from professional postings. The government did not make public the findings of its investigations or administrative punishments. According to the latest government figures, prisoners in the four main prisons filed five complaints of sexual or physical violence. As of November the government had received 204 complaints from the public against Ministry of Interior employees. While the majority were in response to verbal abuse, a “very few” pertained to abuses of power or authority. Of those 204 cases, 52 ministry staff were punished, 44 cases were referred to the court, five ministry staff were released from their positions, and three were terminated.
Although government investigations do not often lead to compensation for victims, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.
According to the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, prisons lacked the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation, were overcrowded, and suffered from widespread corruption in management, resulting in prisoner safety problems and drug abuse by inmates. International observers who visited the Central Prison corroborated reports of drug use and trafficking.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a significant problem during the pandemic. Prisoners share large dormitory cells designed to accommodate 20-30 inmates. Prisoners at the facilities reported it was common for double or triple that number of prisoners to be held in one cell. Inmates incarcerated at Central Prison said the prison cells were so overcrowded that they were forced to sleep on the floor of their cells, on mattresses in the hallway outside their cells, or share beds with other inmates.
In February, Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah issued an annual decree pardoning 1,390 prisoners held on various charges, including the immediate release of 151 prisoners and the reduction of penalties for 839 others. In 2019, 120 land telephones were installed inside most wards in Central Prison to control the smuggling of cell phones. According to the government, during the year prisoners were allowed to make one domestic telephone call per day and one international call per month. International observers confirmed that prisoners were able to make domestic calls via a landline for approximately 10 minutes each day.
In order to decrease overcrowding in the prisons, in February the government asked the governments of Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka to repatriate any their nationals who had served more than half of their prison terms and have them serve the remainder of their sentences at home. Iraq and Iran reportedly repatriated at least 13 and 130 of their citizens, respectively.
In February the Public Prosecution and legal experts warned of the risk of disease outbreaks due to COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons. The report indicated that prisons have the capacity to accommodate 3,432 inmates, while the number of inmates at that time was 4,420. That same month, a female inmate at the Central Prison died of COVID-19. According to government figures from November, 433 prisoners had been infected with COVID-19 and 370 had recovered.
In May, several prisoners reportedly went on a hunger strike over the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons and inadequate health conditions. The strike at the Central Prison reportedly went on for several weeks.
As of November the number of inmates at the Talha Deportation Center was 570 men and 230 women. Noncitizen women pending deportation were held at the Women’s Prison in the Central Prison Complex due to lack of segregated facilities at the deportation center. Resident representatives from various foreign missions reported that detainees complained of discrimination according to national origin and citizenship status. The smuggling of contraband into prisons, particularly drugs and cell phones, continued to be an issue.
In October, several dozen family members of Central Prison inmates gathered outside the prison complex to protest alleged mistreatment and raids by prison guards for illegal cell phones and narcotics. The Ministry of Interior denied reports of rioting, although the ministry confirmed that some guards and inmates had been hospitalized during a scuffle.
Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints.
Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups. Written approval was required for visits by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Authorities permitted staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit prisons and detention centers. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwait Association for the Basic Evaluation of Human Rights were allowed to visit prisons during the year. In June a delegation from the semigovernmental Human Rights Bureau visited the Central Prison to review the government’s steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons. The delegation praised the Ministry of Interior’s preparedness to combat the virus.
Improvements: Efforts by the government to decrease the prison population in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 substantially reduced overcrowding in the prison population. Observers indicated that matters regarding sanitation and the maintenance of facilities had generally improved from previous years, particularly in light of steps by the government to provide early release to prisoners who have committed minor offenses or served most of their time. Approximately 1,000 prisoners were released under these measures. In order to decrease overcrowding in the prisons, in February the government asked the governments of Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka to repatriate any their nationals who had served more than half of their prison terms and have them serve the remainder of their sentences at home. Iraq and Iran reportedly repatriated at least 13 and 130 of their citizens, respectively. In August the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs announced it had provided computer science courses to inmates in the prisons, addiction treatment centers, and halfway houses.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.
A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining noncitizens without a warrant, apparently as part of the government’s effort against unlawful residents. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to their lawyers and family members. Diplomatic representatives observed that in some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings but did not allow direct contact with their clients. Some defendants were sentenced in absentia. Detainees facing “state security” charges were routinely denied access to their lawyers, interpreters, and document translators in advance of hearings. Police investigated most misdemeanor cases, and suspects were released within 48 hours after paying bail or a fine. For more serious misdemeanors and felonies, police can hold a suspect a maximum of four days on their own authority before they must refer the case to prosecution. Nonetheless, there were cases of detainees, especially those held for drug and state security crimes, who were detained for periods of one to two weeks, who were not made aware of the specific charges against them. They were also not allowed to make telephone calls or contact lawyers and family members.
If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a serious misdemeanor and three weeks for a felony in order to question the suspect and investigate the case. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders to extend detention for another 15 days, up to a maximum of four months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial.
Arbitrary Arrest: No arbitrary arrests were reported during the year.
Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary lengthy pretrial detention sometimes occurred. Authorities held some detainees beyond the maximum detention period of six months. NGOs familiar with the judicial system reported that they believed the number of judges and prosecutors working at the Ministry of Justice was inadequate to process cases in a timely manner and the main cause of delays. As of November there were 732 men and 20 women in pretrial custody.
Prolonged detention at the government-run Talha Deportation Center was also a problem, particularly when the detainee was a foreign worker who owed money to a citizen or was a citizen from a country without diplomatic representation in the country able to facilitate exit documents. International organizations reported that these cases could take up to one month to resolve. The government, however, claimed that most deportation cases were resolved within three days.
The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominations to the amir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one- to three-year renewable contracts. As of November there were 800 judges (including eight women) and 562 prosecutors (including 55 women). During the year 18 female prosecutors were appointed. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. In August the Supreme Judicial Council suspended seven judges and stripped them of immunity from prosecution at the request of the Public Prosecutor over alleged ties to a money-laundering network run by detained Iranian national Fouad Salehi. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. In some cases legal residency holders–principally foreign laborers–were detained and deported without recourse to the courts.
Under the law, questions of citizenship or residency status are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The clause that allows government authorities to administratively deport a person without judicial review requires the person to be a threat to the national security or harmful to the state’s interests. The law is broadly used and subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court. Noncitizens charged in criminal cases, however, face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court. The Ministry of Interior investigates misdemeanor charges and refers cases to the misdemeanor court as appropriate. An undersecretary in the Ministry of Interior is responsible for approving all administrative deportation orders. In January 2021 the government announced it had deported 8,143 foreigners in 2020 compared to 40,000 in 2019. Most were deported for violating the residency law and perpetrating crimes and misdemeanors.
The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Defendants enjoy the right to be present at their trial and to receive prompt, detailed information on the charges against them. Defendants who did not speak or understand Arabic, however, often learned of charges against them after their trial began, because an interpreter was not provided when the charges were presented against them. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides the “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. During the year judges exercised wide discretion in closing their courtroom or limiting members of the public in court proceedings due to COVID-19 guidelines. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Most court documents were not publicly accessible. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but this did not always occur.
Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many exercised this right.
There are credible indications of disparate treatment of persons arrested and sentenced in the country’s judicial system.
Under the domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were many instances of persons detained for expressing their political views. Throughout the year the government continued to arrest individuals on charges such as insulting the amir, leaders of neighboring countries or the judiciary; organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidoon; spreading false news; or undermining the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences. During the year sentences for organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidoon, participating in unlicensed or illegal demonstrations against the country’s ruling system, spreading false news, criticizing the amir or other leaders on social media ranged from six months in prison to 10 years plus fines for multiple offenses.
The government actively monitored social media and incarcerated bloggers and political activists for expressing antigovernment opinions and ideas. Media reported between two and four such convictions per month. In February the Criminal Court sentenced another blogger to three years in prison and hard labor for criticizing the amir and posting false news on Twitter. As of November, 35 cases of insulting the amir were registered at the courts. Defendants of five of these 35 cases received final verdicts by the Court of Cassation.
In October authorities extradited three Egyptian opposition figures who called for protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and trial for individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights abuses, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities frequently used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. In the majority of cases of human rights or labor law abuses, victims can go to the Public Authority for Manpower or the Domestic Workers Employment Department to reach a negotiated settlement outside of court. If that is unsuccessful, individuals can pursue their cases in court, although this process was often prolonged, making it unrealistic for many foreign workers. In November a Filipina domestic worker returned to the Philippines after eight years of court cases following her 2012 stabbing by a traffic police officer. The Court of First Instance sentenced the officer to death in 2014, but the Court of Appeals later commuted the sentence to life in prison.
The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information regarding owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (plus government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, approve the amir’s choice of crown prince. According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the amir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the December parliamentary election free and fair, and reported no serious procedural problems. In November the Interior Ministry announced that 34 of the 395 candidates had been disqualified without explanation, although 20 were later reinstated. One of these candidates was elected to the Parliament. The election was characterized by a short campaign period and a ban on in-person events due to COVID-19 health concerns.
Opposition MPs took 24 of the National Assembly’s 50 seats, an increase of 16 seats from the last parliament. Thirty candidates younger than age 45 were elected, while none of the 33 women candidates won seats. There were 13 percent fewer candidates during the year than in the last election in 2016.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings inside the National Assembly, and MPs formed loose alliances. Those convicted of insulting the amir and Islam are banned from running for elected office. In March 2019 the Court of Cassation issued a verdict that banned citizens convicted of calling for or participating in unregistered demonstrations and protest rallies or resisting security operatives from voting or running in public elections. Voters may register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections. In February reports revealed that the Ministries of Interior and Justice were working together to purge from voter registration lists the names of those convicted of insulting the amir. Cases must reach a final verdict before names can be removed.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. The one appointed woman cabinet member can vote with the country’s 50-seat parliament. Although 33 women candidates ran in the December Parliamentary election, no women were ultimately elected. To explain the results, analysts pointed to widespread public opinion, which does not support women in leadership roles, and an electoral system, which minimizes the likelihood of voters allocating their one vote per slate of 10 district candidates to a female candidate. In July the Public Prosecutor appointed eight female judges for the first time in the country’s history.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape is not a crime under the law. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The law allows a rapist to avoid punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of sexual assault and domestic violence, which service providers stated contributes to a culture of underreporting by survivors.
When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. For example, in January police arrested a Bangladeshi national for kidnapping and raping a foreign resident woman. In February, three men were arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor after abducting, raping, and holding a teenage girl captive in an apartment. In August a man was arrested after stabbing his aunt several times in her sleep, reportedly with the intent to kill her. In September a woman was killed by her second brother while recovering in the hospital after an initial attempt on her life by another brother over “family disputes.” Press reports indicated the brothers intended to kill their sister because they did not approve of her marriage. Both brothers were detained by police. In December a man was arrested for stabbing his sister to death. He was charged with premeditated murder and his case was referred to the Public Prosecutor.
Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on domestic violence, domestic violence cases against women were regularly reported by local NGOs. Service providers observed that domestic violence was significantly underreported to authorities but press publicized some high profile cases. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a death penalty sentence for a citizen who was charged with killing his pregnant Saudi wife three years ago. In March a man was arrested for murdering his wife and burying her body in the desert.
Women’s rights activists documented numerous stories of citizen and women foreign workers seeking help to leave an abusive situation who faced obstacles because no shelters for victims of domestic violence existed. A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. In domestic violence cases, since for any type of physical assault, a woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse. Advocates reported that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers were not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances were also their abusers.
In August the National Assembly approved the country’s first-ever domestic violence law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides victims with legal, medical, and rehabilitation services. It defines domestic violence as any form of physical, psychological, sexual, or financial mistreatment done by one family member against another. The law also calls for the establishment of a domestic violence shelter, and requires the Ministry of Social Affairs to begin compiling statistics on domestic violence in the country. The Ministry of Social Affairs was expected also to establish special teams to investigate domestic violence claims.
In January press reported that a foreign resident woman had filed rape charges against the Ambassador of her home country for an incident dating back to 2018. Reports indicated police refused to file the charges because the Ambassador maintained diplomatic immunity and the location of the alleged crime–the Ambassador’s residence–was outside their jurisdiction.
In February the Criminal Court sentenced a security officer at Kuwait International Airport to seven years imprisonment for rape in an airport inspection room. He was also ordered to pay compensation.
As of November there were 34 rape cases registered at the courts. Final verdicts were issued in four of these cases. Final and appealable rulings for convicted cases included death penalty and jail terms from five years up to 15 years and life imprisonment.
As of November there were 420 cases of violence against women registered at the courts. Final verdicts were issued in 46 of these cases. Final and appealable rulings for convicted cases included jail terms from five years up to 15 years and life imprisonment.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any so-called honor killings during the year. In February the Criminal Court confirmed that honor killings as described in article 153 of the penal code would henceforth be treated as cases of premeditated murder, rather than as misdemeanors. In February the Criminal Court issued the death penalty against a man who alleged he had killed his daughter because he had suspicions regarding her “honor.” In the ruling, the judge clarified that the honor killing section of the law was not applicable in this case because the father had not caught his daughter “in the act.”
Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and mostly unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment. The law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, but police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced fines and imprisonment.
Reproductive Rights: The government restricted some aspects of couples’ and individuals’ rights to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Laws, criminal penalties, and social and cultural attitudes did not prevent unmarried women from seeking out information on reproductive health, yet some physicians were reluctant to administer certain procedures, such as pap smears, to unmarried women despite there being no law against it. Skilled attendance during prenatal care, essential obstetric care, childbirth, and postpartum care was available free of charge but not without significant penalties for unmarried individuals. Many stateless Bidoon and unmarried women reportedly had difficulty accessing nonemergency care.
Contraceptives were available without prescription regardless of nationality or age, but some doctors were reluctant to provide advice or information on contraceptives to unmarried women. Cultural stigmas discouraged unmarried women from accessing contraceptives.
A mother who gives birth out of wedlock can be imprisoned along with her child. If an unmarried Kuwaiti woman is pregnant, authorities have been known to summon her partner and request a marriage certificate that is backdated nine months in order for the mother and father to avoid arrest. Families are known to pressure unmarried pregnant women to claim falsely they have been raped in order to avoid jail time and the stigma associated with sexual relations prior to marriage.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but these services were largely inadequate. A large percentage of survivors of sexual violence had little access to health services. Expatriate survivors of sexual violence often had even less access to such services, particularly if they were illegal residents or their employer did not provide adequate medical coverage.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law does not provide women the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions as men. Women experienced discrimination in most aspects of family law, including divorce and child custody, as well as in the basic rights of citizenship, the workplace, and in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in court. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. As implemented in the country, sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no reported cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, or securing housing, but no official government system exists to track this issue.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider the testimony of men and women equally, but in sharia courts the testimony of a women equals half that of a man. A July study released by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights found that, while the constitution provides for equal rights for women, its implementation often falls short and many laws contradict its equal protection provisions.
Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.
Women do not enjoy equal citizenship rights as men. Female citizens are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or to children. Failure to provide equal citizenship rights to women subjects their children to statelessness when a woman is married to a stateless Bidoon resident. In exceptional cases some children of widowed or divorced female citizens were granted citizenship by amiri decree, although this was a discretionary act. Individuals can petition the Ministry of Interior to include their name on a list of naturalizations, to be reviewed by the Council of Ministers. If approved, the names go to the amir for signature and are published in the national gazette. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination, and their children are accorded the full legal protections of citizenship.
In August the General Administration of Residency Affairs rescinded its ban on allowing foreign worker mothers to sponsor their children’s residence visas. The previous rule stated that a foreign worker mother could only sponsor her child if she was divorced or a widow. In July the National Assembly approved an amendment that would allow women to sign off on surgical procedures for family members. Previously, women needed a male guardian’s consent to authorize such procedures, including for their own children.
The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all public universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.
Birth Registration: Birth registration is generally available to all citizens and foreign residents as long as the parents have a recognized marriage certificate dated at least seven months prior to the birth date of their child. Citizenship is transmitted exclusively by the father (see section 6, Discrimination). The government designates the father’s religious group on birth certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Bidoon parents, and in a few cases citizen women married to Bidoon or foreigners, but they were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their children even after completing extensive administrative procedures. The lack of a birth certificate prevented Bidoon children from obtaining identification papers and accessing public services such as education and health care.
Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended public education to Bidoon has not been implemented fully. Lack of identification documents sometimes prevented Bidoon resident access to education even at private schools. The Education Ministry sets annual quotas for the number of Bidoon residents who can attend public schools, most of whom have citizen mothers. The others must attend private schools and pay fees. Charitable organizations offer tuition support to some but not all of these students.
Medical Care: Lack of identification papers restricted Bidoon residents’ access to free medical care. In July the Ministry of Health announced that parents or legal guardians who do not vaccinate their children would be fined or jailed up to six months.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations; premarital sexual relations are illegal.
A new policy aimed at protecting children from dangers posed by social media platforms and exploitation by parents and other adults had been put in place by the Child Protection Office in the Ministry of Health. The policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or could expose them to sexual predators.
In January a foreign worker was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for sexually assaulting a minor girl. In February a man was arrested for kidnapping and raping an eight-year-old boy.
The Ministry of Health’s child protection office announced in January that it had received 2,139 complaints regarding abuse of children between 2015 and 2019. Complaints included physical violence, neglect, and sexual assault. The office received 650 complaints in 2019 compared to 100 in 2015.
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 were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric generally originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews. Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens, included transporting Israeli passport holders on the country’s national airline. In January, Yusuf Mehanna claimed that his citizenship had been revoked after he gave a public interview noting his intention to convert to Judaism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, and social welfare costs. The government had not fully implemented social and workplace programs to assist persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.
The government continued to reserve a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. In June 2019 the Public Authority for the Disabled announced it would start providing university scholarships for students with disabilities.
Authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities as citizens. Noncitizen students attended private schools only, which generally lacked accessible materials and reasonable accommodations.
Most citizen children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities. In August the Ministry of Education announced it would suspend in-person classes for students with disabilities until further notice because of COVID-19. The ministry reported that there were more than 52,000 persons with disabilities registered with the government, including thousands of school-aged children.
Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care (see sections 2.g, and 7.d.). The Ministry of Interior used administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than age 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than age 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. The law criminalizes and imposes a fine and imprisonment for one-to-three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. These penalties were enforced. Transgender persons reported cases of repeated harassment, detention, abuse, and rape by police, who blackmailed and raped them without fear of reprisal.
In June transgender woman Maha al-Mutairi claimed via social media that she was detained by police due to her gender identity and jailed in a men’s prison, where she was sexually assaulted and raped by police officers. Al-Mutairi was ordered to pay a fine for “cross dressing and imitating the opposite sex” and released without charges after widespread outcry from local and international LGBTI organizations. Al-Mutairi did not formally press charges and the alleged perpetrators were not investigated or prosecuted by authorities.
Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred. Officials practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.
No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTI human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.
Local human rights NGOs reported limited accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. Since 2016 authorities deported hundreds of foreign residents with HIV/AIDS. In February the government announced that some of the 42 officials found to be HIV positive in the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as the National Guard, would be sent into retirement as a result of their diagnosis.
Unmarried persons, particularly foreign workers, continued to face housing discrimination and eviction based on their marital status and income. For example, authorities frequently raided apartment blocks housing foreign worker “bachelors,” and reportedly shut off water and electricity to force single male workers out of accommodations. Single foreign workers faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizen families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic.
The spread of COVID-19 in the early part of the year was followed by a strong upsurge in xenophobic rhetoric. A poll released in August showed that 65 percent of citizens believed foreign workers were mainly to blame for the spread of COVID-19 in the country. In July a Kuwaiti national was arrested for assaulting a migrant worker at a grocery store. On June 24, civil society organizations released a letter decrying the upsurge of hate speech during the pandemic.