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Belgium

Executive Summary

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

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

Significant human rights issues included: some attacks motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex persons.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Following several corruption scandals in 2017 and 2018, no significant cases were reported during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected officials to disclose their income or revenue, but they must report if they serve on any board of directors, regardless of whether in a paid or unpaid capacity. Officials in nonelective offices are held to the same standard. Sanctions for noncompliance are infrequent but have been used in the past when triggered by public outcry.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

During the year the government established the Federal Institute of Human Rights and nominated a board president and vice president in May. The institute will intervene where other agencies, such as UNIA or the federal center for migration, Myria, do not act. The mission of the institute is to provide opinions, recommendations, and report to the federal government, the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate, and other official bodies, to guarantee that the fundamental rights arising from the international treaties to which the country is a party are carried out. The new body is competent only at the federal level, but an interfederal approach is also envisaged via a cooperation agreement between federal and regional authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

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

The activist blog StopFeminicide reported that 24 women died in connection with rape or domestic violence in 2019. The government does not keep a record of the number of femicides. According to 2018 federal police statistics, there were approximately 39,000 official complaints of physical, psychological, and economic violence, including 139 complaints of sexual violence, during that year.

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

According to analysis carried out in the country for the EU Commission in 2019, out of a sample of 100 rape cases, 50 of the rapists were never identified. Of the 50 who were identified, only four were judged in court: three were given a deferred sentence, while one was convicted and served prison time. In 2016 the Federal Public Service for Justice estimated that 500 to 600 of the 3,000 to 4,000 rape cases of rape reported annually ended in conviction. A survey of 2,300 male and female participants, ages 15 to 85, conducted by Amnesty International in during the year indicated that respondents believed only 4.3 percent of the reported cases lead to conviction.

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

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

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies adversely affect access to contraception. Similarly, no legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies adversely affect access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

In April, five men were arrested for their participation in a child pornography case involving 110 victims, 90 suspects, and some nine million images. The investigation began in 2015 and has since been referred to as the country’s largest child pornography case. The case involved three Belgians, a citizen of the Netherlands, and a UK citizen, all of whom were tried at the Dendermonde correctional court, were found guilty, and were subject to sentences ranging from five to 16 years in prison.

In September the courts convicted five persons for trafficking eight young Nigerian girls into the country. The girls, who were recruited under the promise of becoming hairdressers, were first transferred through Liberia before being forced into prostitution upon their arrival in the country.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

In 2019 UNIA received 79 complaints of anti-Semitism, a decrease from 101 complaints in 2018. Of these, 46 reports took place on the internet, five were linked to education, five were cases of verbal aggression and threats, six were cases of vandalism, and one case involved violence. Also in 2019 the Belgian Federal Police recorded 14 cases of Holocaust denial. The civil society organization antisemitisme.be recorded 75 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019; the majority of cases were ideological (34) or took place on the internet (26), while 11 involved property damage.

A poll by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that 39 percent of local Jews had encountered verbal abuse. Authorities generally investigated and where appropriate prosecuted such cases.

While ritual slaughter for religious practice remains legal at the federal level, the Flanders and Walloon regional governments instituted bans on religious slaughter in January and September 2019, respectively. In both regional governments, the law requires that animals be stunned prior to killing. Many Muslim and Jewish communities challenged the restrictions on grounds of discrimination and violation of religious freedom. On July 8, the EU Court of Justice heard the case. On September 10, the EU’s advocate general ruled against the ban, stating that it violates EU norms. The ruling was nonbinding but serves as a precursor to the final court decision expected later. Normally court decisions align with the advocate general’s ruling. The Brussels regional government does not have a policy on ritual slaughter and has further stated that it will await the court decision before holding discussions on the subject.

On February 23, the carnival parade in the city of Aalst, as in 2019, had floats with negative caricatures of Jews as well as individuals parading in Nazi SS uniforms. In 2019 UNESCO stripped the 600-year-old event of its World Heritage status because of its anti-Semitic floats.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic profiling continued to be a problem, and there were sometimes concerns regarding ethnic profiling by police. Amnesty International, among others, alleged that police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns sometimes targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines, and fines.

According to media reports, police subjected Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a black member of the European Parliament, to violence in Brussels in June after she attempted to video-record nine police officers “harassing” two black youths. Herzberger-Fofana filed a complaint, while police filed a countersuit for defamation.

In 2018 Sanda Dia, a black Belgian student at the Catholic University Leuven, died while allegedly participating in the Reuzengom fraternity initiation custom known as a “baptism.” According to local media outlets, Dia died of hypothermia and multiple organ failure after being subjected to the club’s ritualistic hazing. In August new information regarding Dia’s treatment alleged that the club subjected him to racist remarks during his initiation. Reuzengom members were also accused of other displays of racism, including allegedly wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, a speech at the fraternity that referred to “our good German friend, Hitler,” and a video of club members singing, “Congo is ours.” In September requests for additional investigation into the incident postponed the case’s referral to criminal court until a later date.

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

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

UNIA reported that in 2019 it received 133 complaints of acts of discrimination against members of the LGBTI community, of which 35 were related to workplace discrimination or harassment. This was a record number of complaints related to LGBTI discrimination and the first time workplace discrimination was the most cited abuse. A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 37 percent of individuals in the country identifying as LGBTI reported avoiding certain areas to avoid being harassed, assaulted, or insulted.

UNIA received several complaints of online hate speech and incitement to violence towards the LGBTI community. One case involved a student who had commented on a teacher’s Instagram page, that homosexuality was “cancerous,” telling him to “die of AIDS.” Within the political sphere, UNIA received reports of discrimination concerning comments made by several Vlaams Belang (an extreme right political party) politicians, stating that the LGBTI community “will always be abnormal,” referring to pictures of Pride marches as “repugnant,” and saying that allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children “is going too far.”

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of physical and verbal attacks against Muslims. In 2019, the most recent year of available data, the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium reported they had received 108 reports of discrimination. Of these, 96 investigations were opened, of which 80 were confirmed as cases of Islamophobia. In nine of 10 confirmed cases, the victims of discrimination were women. During the same year, UNIA registered 290 reports of discrimination against persons of Muslim faith.

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

In February the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that prohibiting headscarves in sports for safety reasons was permitted and that a sports headscarf did not meet the safety requirements. In July the Constitutional Court ruled that educational institutions could prohibit religious symbols (namely headscarves), leading to protests against the ruling for disproportionately targeting girls of Muslim faith. In November a teacher in a Molenbeek school was suspended for showing caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in his class. UNIA also reported numerous instances of religious discrimination via social media. In October, two individuals were sentenced to six months of prison and a fine for running a Facebook page, Identitaires Ardennes, which featured anti-Islamic hate speech. The Audiovisual Superior Council noted an increase and normalization of online hate speech.

In November, UNIA published a report on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on discrimination. The study found that reports of discrimination rose by 32 percent between February 1 and August 19 in comparison with 2019. A total of 1,850 complaints which UNIA linked to the health and safety measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic were registered. Discrimination reports came mainly from persons with East Asian and foreign origins, persons with disabilities, young persons, and elderly persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

For companies with more than 50 employees, the law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers exercised these rights. Citizen and noncitizen workers enjoyed the same rights. Work council elections are mandatory in enterprises with more than 100 employees, and safety and health committee elections are mandatory in companies with more than 50 employees. Employers sometimes sought judicial recourse against associations attempting to prevent workers who did not want to strike from entering the employer’s premises.

The government effectively enforced the law, but freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were not consistently respected by employers. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

In a report published in December, the Interfederal Center for Migration (Myria) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to protect human traffickers and render cases of forced labor less visible. Myria reported a decreased capacity for detection because the social security labor inspection services were unable to safely complete field checks. The report also noted that it was often impossible to solicit support from police forces, which were overwhelmed with enforcing health and safety measures in light of the pandemic. There was a significant drop in reports of cases of forced labor–from 3.15 cases per day in 2019 to 0.55 during the year.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Men and women were subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

In March the criminal court of Namur convicted the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Walcourt for the forced labor of five men. The men, who did not have a valid work permit or visa, were carrying out renovations in the restaurant. They were neither paid, declared under social security, nor under contract. The owner was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age of employment is 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/study programs and work full time up to a limited number of hours during the school year. The Ministry of Employment regulated industries that employ juvenile workers to ensure that labor laws were followed; it occasionally granted waivers for children temporarily employed by modeling agencies and in the entertainment business. Waivers were granted on a short-term basis and for a clearly defined performance or purpose that had to be listed in the law as an acceptable activity. The law clearly defines, according to the age of the child, the maximum amount of time that may be worked daily and the frequency of performances. A child’s earnings must be paid to a bank account under the name of the child, and the money is inaccessible until the child reaches 18 years of age.

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources and inspections; such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws could face penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In October, Belgian and French police jointly dismantled a human trafficking network in which children were subjected to forced begging. According to media reports, the network had made an estimated five million euros ($6 million) in profits and controlled “begging zones” in Belgium and Paris. Police questioned 13 suspects believed to be involved in the network; the investigation remained underway in December.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, but permit companies to prohibit outward displays of religious affiliation, including headscarves (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/). The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Some employers discriminated in employment and occupation against women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minority groups as well as against internal and foreign migrant workers. The government took legal action based on antidiscrimination laws. UNIA facilitated arbitration or other settlements in some cases of discrimination. Settlements could involve monetary payments, community service, or other penalties.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Trade unions or media sometimes escalated cases, and UNIA often took a position or acted as a go-between to find solutions or to support alleged victims in the courts.

The Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and may initiate lawsuits if it discovers violations of equality laws. Most complaints received during the year were work related and concerned the termination of employment due to pregnancy. Economic discrimination against women continued. According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, women’s hourly wage rates were 6 percent less than those of their male colleagues in 2017. The law requires that one-third of the board members of publicly traded companies be women.

The law requires companies with at least 50 employees to provide a clear overview of their compensation plans, a detailed breakdown by gender of their wages and fringe benefits, a gender-neutral classification of functions, and the possibility of appointing a mediator to address and follow up on gender-related problems.

The employment rate for persons with disabilities in the public sector was much lower than the quotas and targets set by public authorities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a monthly national minimum wage, and it is higher than the official estimate for poverty income level.

The standard workweek is 38 hours, and workers are entitled to four weeks of annual leave. Departure from these norms can occur under a collective bargaining agreement, but work may not exceed 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week. An 11-hour rest period is required between work periods. Overtime is paid at a time-and-a-half premium Monday through Saturday and double time on Sundays. The law forbids or limits excessive overtime. Without specific authorization, an employee may not work more than 65 hours of overtime during any one quarter.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries. Inspectors from both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Security enforced labor regulations. These ministries jointly worked to ensure that standards were effectively enforced in all sectors, including the informal sector, and that wages and working conditions were consistent with collective bargaining agreements. Wage, overtime, and occupational safety violations were most common in the restaurant, construction, and logistics industries. Some employers still operated below legal standards.

A specialized governmental department created to oversee the informal economy conducted investigations, mainly in the construction, restaurant and hotel, and cleaning sectors. Authorities may fine employers for poor working conditions but may also treat such cases as trafficking in persons.

Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary Title

Bulgaria is a constitutional republic governed by a freely elected unicameral National Assembly. A coalition government headed by a prime minister leads the country. National Assembly elections were held in 2017, and the Central Election Commission did not report any major election irregularities. International and local observers considered the National Assembly elections and the 2016 presidential election generally free and fair but noted some deficiencies.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for law enforcement, migration, and border control. The State Agency for National Security, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for investigating corruption and organized crime, among other responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also can assist with border security. During the coronavirus-related state of emergency, the army had the authority to enforce COVID-19 measures and restrictions but did not exercise it. The National Protective Service is responsible for the security of dignitaries and answers to the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: violent treatment by police; arbitrary arrests; serious problems with judicial independence; serious restrictions on free expression, including media censorship, violence and threats of violence against journalists, and corporate and political pressure on media; refoulement of refugees or asylum seekers; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against Roma; violence against children; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Authorities took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but government actions were insufficient, and impunity was a problem.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption, including bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading.

In May the EC’s annual European Semester Report identified corruption as a major obstacle to investment, noting that “challenges persist in the fight against corruption,” and that the country “still lacks a solid criminal track record of concrete results on high-level corruption cases.” In its September report, the EC noted that “the legal framework to fight corruption is largely in place” but identified “the complex and formalistic…system of criminal procedural law… as an obstacle to the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption.”

Corruption: The prosecutor general reported to the National Assembly that as of September prosecutors had opened 525 new investigations, bringing the total number of ongoing corruption cases to 2,282, and they had indicted 283 persons, obtaining 156 convictions. According to the annual report of the prosecution service, less than 5 percent of corruption convictions resulted in prison time. In June the NGO Anticorruption Fund reported that out of 40 high-profile investigations in the previous five years against former ministers, deputy ministers, National Assembly members, and magistrates it has monitored, only three resulted in convictions, resulting in two suspended sentences and one fine, while seven cases ended in acquittal, five cases were pending appeal, and the rest were mostly in an uncertain status.

On July 6, the Specialized Appellate Criminal Court reduced the sentence of the bribery conviction of the former mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district, Desislava Ivancheva, from 20 to eight years in prison, a fine, and a ban on holding high-level public office for 20 years. The prison sentences of Ivancheva’s codefendants Bilyana Pеtrova and Petko Dyulgerov were also reduced from 15 to seven years and 12 to six years, respectively. According to the prosecution, Ivancheva solicited a 500,000 euro ($600,000) bribe from an investor in construction projects, with Dyulgerov serving as intermediary and Petrova as an accomplice.

In September a prosecutor indicted the former head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev, and three other employees of the agency for receiving bribes and trading in influence to aid foreign citizens in obtaining the country’s passports. Haralampiev and the first secretary of the agency were also charged with various types of malfeasance. As of December the court had not scheduled a trial.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that government officials make annual public declarations of their assets and income as well as any circumstances in which they could face accusations of using their position for personal gain. The Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets verified and monitored disclosures for all officials except magistrates, whose declarations were monitored by the Supreme Judicial Council’s inspectorate. High-level public officials and magistrates who fail to submit a financial disclosure declaration can incur fines. The provision was enforced.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials.

Some political parties, civic movements, and media outlets publicly attacked and advocated closing certain NGOs that defended particular minority groups and obtained funding from foreign donors. In February the government established a Civil Society Development Council headed by a deputy prime minister. In June the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets suspended the formation of the council. The commission challenged the election of council members over concerns that the election was insufficiently publicized and only a small number of NGOs participated, limiting the choice of members and making the body unrepresentative. The commission was also concerned the council would be in a position to disburse a large amount of government grant funds, creating potential conflicts of interest. NGOs dismissed the commission’s arguments and in turn accused the commission of furthering the anti-NGO political agenda of the VMRO party. As of October the government had not responded to the commission, and the council remained suspended.

As in past years, BHC staff reported receiving threats and spontaneous verbal assaults by persons who recognized them.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is an independent constitutional body elected by the National Assembly, with a five-year mandate. The ombudsman reviews individuals’ complaints against the government for violations of rights and freedoms. The ombudsman can request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals to end existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent specialized agency for preventing and protecting against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity.

A National Assembly permanent committee covers religious denominations and human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so. According to the NGO Bulgarian Fund for Women, domestic violence helplines received up to 50 percent more reports between April and November during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law restricts the persons who can report domestic violence to the victim or the victim’s direct relatives, and excludes friends and other unrelated persons. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, and to order special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine. According to a nationwide study on violence commissioned by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and released in February, 56 percent of the population has experienced domestic violence.

In one example, on June 9, the Sofia regional court sentenced a man to one year in prison for inflicting bodily injuries on his wife of 15 years. The court heard testimony from witnesses including the victim, her daughter, a neighbor, and police who responded to an emergency call during a family altercation. The victim also had medical records showing injuries from two prior assaults. According to the victim, she only filed a complaint after long-term abuse because she noticed that her 10-year-old son had started copying his father’s behavior.

In January the NGO Center for Creative Justice reported concerns that the law does not provide sufficient protection to victims of domestic violence. In addition, a Supreme Cassation Court judgment granting a perpetrator of domestic violence the right to collect rent from the survivor could discourage victims from reporting domestic violence or petitioning for a restraining order. In June the ombudsman criticized the legal provisions exonerating the offending person from prosecution for inflicting a medium injury (e.g., a broken tooth) or a more serious injury, such as deliberately infecting a person with a sexually transmitted disease, and sent the Justice Ministry a proposal for abolishing these legal provisions.

NGOs continued to express concern over an increase in cases in which women or girls were killed as a result of domestic violence. NGOs criticized authorities for not tracking domestic violence cases and not keeping statistics, which NGOs claimed were needed for authorities to assess the risk of abuse turning deadly.

In June, Sofia police reported nine deaths from domestic violence since the beginning of the COVID-19-related state of emergency in mid-March, in addition to receiving 3,500 reports of domestic aggression and the Sofia City Court issuing 600 restraining orders. In September, for example, a man set his partner on fire in the village of Tri Kladentsi while she was sleeping. The woman died in the hospital. According to news reports, the man had previously attempted to drown her in a lake. As of October pretrial proceedings were underway and the perpetrator remained in custody.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence survivors in 22 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that survivors could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred domestic violence survivors to NGO-run shelters.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion combined with sexual exploitation. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women in poor rural areas and Romani communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of information and education. The cost of contraception was not covered by health insurance. Individuals younger than 16 could not schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or have an HIV test performed without parental consent. Lack of health insurance sometimes limited skilled attendance at childbirth. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, approximately half of all uninsured women, or between 8 and 9 percent of all women in the country, did not receive prenatal care, and approximately 80 percent of those uninsured (about 12 to 14 percent of all women) did not have access to relevant medical tests. Home births were illegal, and medical personnel could be prosecuted if they assisted them.

There were reports that maternity services were denied during the year due to COVID-19-related restrictions. In November and December, media reported that some hospitals refused to admit women in labor unless they produced a negative polymerase chain reaction test for the disease.

Victims of sexual violence, who NGOs stated were mainly uninsured, often did not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. Trafficking victims had access to health care through NGOs approved by authorities.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment. The law establishes equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life, equal access to public resources, equal treatment, exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence, balanced representation of men and women in decision-making authorities, and overcoming gender-based stereotypes.

In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women identified an increased number of cases in the country of “antigender discourse in the public domain, public backlash in the perception of gender equality, and misogynistic statements in the media, including by high-ranking politicians.” The committee also expressed concern that women facing discrimination had “limited access to justice owing to pervasive corruption, social stigma, the inaccessibility of the judicial system, and gender bias among law enforcement officers.” The committee further noted that women with disabilities and Romani women were “underrepresented in the parliament, ministerial positions, decision-making positions at the municipal level, and high-ranking posts in the foreign service.”

On December 22, the government adopted the new 10-year National Strategy for Encouraging the Equality between Women and Men, which focuses on five priority areas: equality in the labor market and an equal level of economic independence; decreasing the gender pay gap and income gaps; equal participation in decision-making; combating gender-based violence and providing victim protection and support; and overcoming gender stereotypes and sexism.

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 women received on average pensions that were 32 percent lower than those for men. Women faced discrimination in employment, in the workplace, and in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents or by birth within the country’s territory, unless one receives foreign citizenship by heritage. The law requires birth registration within seven days.

Education: Due to a lack of access to appropriate devices or the internet, the Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 children could not fully participate in education after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to online learning in mid-March. The Romani NGO Amalipe conducted a survey in 200 schools with majority Romani enrollment and found that in a quarter of them, more than 50 percent of the students did not have devices able to access online content. In 20 percent of the schools, most students could not afford to pay for suitable internet service. The survey found that 13 percent of the schools served neighborhoods where there was no internet service available.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against any type of abuse, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence and exploitation. The law punishes violators with fines, unless the abuses constitute a criminal or more severe administrative offense. Violence against children continued to be a problem.

In February the State Agency for Child Protection announced that it was taking over the national helpline for children from NGOs, explaining that the agency was ready to operate the system and that the public preferred the government to operate the helpline. In an open letter to the prime minister, 76 NGOs expressed concern that the transition would jeopardize the helpline’s operation and put at risk children and parents who seek help. The NGOs voiced suspicion that the decision stemmed from the “propaganda, misinformation, and fake news regarding the work of the helpline” spread throughout 2019 by other NGOs such as March for the Family and Parents United for Children, nationalist political parties such as VMRO and Vazrazhdane, and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in a campaign against the government’s draft Strategy for the Child 2019-2030.

In June the NGO National Network for Children released its ninth annual “report card,” which concluded that “the government departed from the development of policies supporting children and families.”

In July a video posted on social networks showed a 32-year-old woman from Pernik beating her three-year-old daughter severely “because your father does not love you, he does not love me either.” The mother recorded it herself to “punish” the father. Authorities placed the child in a family-type home and brought charges for domestic abuse against the mother.

According to UNICEF one-third of all schoolchildren had experienced violence or harassment in school at least once within the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person may enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. In its concluding observations in March, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the “persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls.” NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities. As of September 23, the country’s courts had sentenced 85 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 16, 11 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 14, and 11 parents for aiding and abetting such cohabitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine, and child sex trafficking, which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The report on the April 2019 visit of the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children found that “child sexual exploitation, including sexual abuse within the inner circle of trust and at a residential institution, is real and extensive.” The report acknowledged there was a lack of systematic and reliable data on the scope of the problem and cited evidence gathered from child protection stakeholders. The report also identified insufficient cooperation among the various authorities engaged in child protection as a problem.

Displaced Children: As of November a total of 512 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the country, almost the same number as during the same period in 2019. As of October the Supreme Administrative Court was reviewing a case based on the 2017 petition from the ombudsman to establish uniform legal treatment of unaccompanied children across the court system. According to the ombudsman, courts apply varying standards for determining whether migrant children are unaccompanied and routinely placed children designated as such in detention centers for irregular migrants.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued to close residential care institutions for children. As of January a total of 476 children remained to be relocated from the 19 legacy facilities and placed in community-based care. According to the government, the focus of the reform was on preventing child abandonment and encouraging reintegration in a family environment. NGOs, however, believed that the new family-type placement centers did not ensure improved quality of life for children and the quality of family support services remained unchanged.

In November 2019, the NGO Disabilities Rights International published a report which concluded that the country’s deinstitutionalization reform had “replaced a system of large, old orphanages with newer, smaller buildings that are still operating as institutions” and that, while physical conditions in group homes were clean, they remained “dehumanizing and dangerous.” Most of the institutions in question housed children with disabilities, and while they provided good physical conditions (having been recently renovated or built), NGOs alleged that the service providers–other NGOs–isolated residents and immobilized them to avoid any trouble. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy described the report’s findings as “biased, nonrepresentative, and seeking to demean the deinstitutionalization process.”

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

Anti-Semitism

The 2011 census indicated that 1,130 Jews lived in the country, but local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number was 5,000 to 6,000.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews, or “Shalom,” reported a trend of increasing online anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were available in tourist areas around the country. According to Shalom, the national coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and the Ministry of Interior “responded unfailingly” to anti-Semitic incidents, but weak laws prevented the authorities from punishing offenders more severely.

In January vandals broke tombstones and fences in the Jewish cemetery in Shumen. As of October authorities had not identified the perpetrators of the incident. In June vandals defaced a playground and the facades of the adjacent houses in Sofia with 56 swastikas. Authorities responded quickly, cleaning up the playground.

In February the Supreme Administrative Court upheld Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova’s ban on an annual march which gathers right-wing extremists from across Europe to honor Hristo Lukov, 1940s leader of an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. The mayor’s ban cited serious concerns that a torchlight march in downtown Sofia would disrupt public order; the ban restricted the event to laying flowers at Lukov’s plaque in front of his house on February 22. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Democratic Bulgaria alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. On February 10, a prosecutor petitioned the Sofia city court with a claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, claiming its activity violated individual rights, incited ethnic, racial, and religious hostility and homophobia, spread anti-Semitic propaganda, and undermined national integrity. As of December the case was ongoing in the Sofia city court.

In June, Shalom reported organizations such as the Revived Bulgaria-Bulgarian National Unity and Military Union-Bulgarian National Movement, or “Shipka,” spread online propaganda alleging Jews were involved in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide “a deadly pseudoantidote” that would lead to the “mass extermination of people.” Authorities issued a warning protocol to Shipka leader Lyudmila Kostadinova, informing her that she would be held criminally liable if she persisted in making anti-Semitic statements.

On December 16, Sofia University fired Mihail Mirchev, a part-time professor teaching a course on social work with ethnic groups, after the university’s ethics commission found his lectures included negative ethnic stereotypes and denigrating cliches. The university’s decision came after a student society, Shalom, and other NGOs protested that Mirchev’s lectures featured racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic content such as: “Is it possible that Bulgaria could turn into a Jewish country if they, being fewer than 1 percent, own the state, the capital, the media, and the art?” Mirchev explained to the ethics commission that his words had been taken out of context and he denied sharing such views.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities, including their access to health services, education, employment, housing, public infrastructure, transportation, sports and cultural events, public and political events, the judicial system, and other services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, focusing most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care. According to NGOs, the ongoing deinstitutionalization, which was designed to be a carbon copy of a similar reform of childcare institutions, failed to reintegrate persons with disabilities in the community. Instead, the government allocated domestic and EU resources for institutional care.

In January 2019 the prosecution service opened investigations against members of medical expert evaluation boards for defrauding the country’s social assistance system by approving “fake disability pensions.” As of October the investigations were ongoing.

While the law requires improved access to public and transportation infrastructure for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects and existing buildings. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination continued its nationwide campaign of inspecting public buildings, utility providers, telecommunications operators, banks, and insurance companies. Those not in compliance with the law for persons with disabilities were fined. According to the commission, while there was a general consensus on the problems faced by persons with disabilities, solutions took time to implement, and persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing not only public infrastructure, but also employment, health-care services, and education. According to the informal group Accessibility Alliance, the public environment for persons with disabilities remained a problem, as the law does not require accessibility of public development projects.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities and covers 30 to 50 percent of an employer’s related insurance costs in addition to the full cost of modifying and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. The government provided a 24-month program of subsidies for employers who hire unemployed persons with a permanent disability. The law requires that companies with 50 to 99 employees hire at least one person with a permanent disability; in larger companies, persons with permanent disabilities must make up at least 2 percent of the workforce. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 the number of unemployed persons with disabilities dropped by 4.8 percent and the number of employed persons with disabilities increased twofold compared to 2018.

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were widely stigmatized and often housed in institutions in remote areas under harsh conditions. According to NGOs, the government did not provide adequate medical care for all persons with mental disabilities. In February 2019 the NGOs European Network for Independent Living, the Center for Independent Living, and the Validity Foundation issued a petition that claimed replacing legacy institutions with smaller community-based centers would result in “transinstitutionalization” and fail to deal with the “deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion, and segregation of these groups.”

The Ministry of Education transformed most of the 55 “special schools” for students with specific education needs into education support centers, leaving only five segregated schools with approximately 500 students with sensory and hearing disabilities. Most of the remaining 18,000 students with disabilities attended mainstream schools. Those studying in segregated schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying the student for further education.

In July the NGO Life with Down Syndrome Foundation petitioned authorities with a claim that medical certification regulations discriminated against children with Down syndrome, neglected their needs, damaged their entitlement to financial support, and restricted their right to a quality and dignified life. The regulations instruct the assessment committee to assign children with genetic anomalies up to the age of three a 50 percent disability and those older than age three a 30 percent disability, which determines the level of support they are entitled to, including financial benefits, and depriving them of additional opportunities for physical and psychological development.

NGOs believed police and prosecutors lacked training and skills in dealing with persons with mental disabilities and often traumatized them further with their actions.

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes, voting in a polling station of their choice, and assisted voting. According to the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, those measures were “not sufficient to ensure equal participation, especially for persons with visual impairments who cannot vote independently.”

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted, and manifested in occasional violence against the Roma in particular, as well as societal discrimination against ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that the level of racial discrimination against Roma persisted and increased during the coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, VMRO, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In May the UN special rapporteurs on racism and minority issues stated that “racial discrimination and racism within state institutions is a reality,” and called on the government to condemn hate speech and racist and nationalist populism targeting Roma and other minorities.

On May 14, four persons between the ages of 16 and 20 assaulted a 15-year-old Rom, Stefan Stefanov, near a school in Lyaskovets while he was on his way to a local shop. Stefanov subsequently stated that he lost consciousness after the first punch and only remembered waking up later in a park. According to media reports, the attackers’ parents offered to pay Stefanov a settlement if his family withdrew the charges. As of October police were investigating.

According to NGOs, government authorities, pressured by governing coalition member VMRO, imposed ethnically biased measures on Romani neighborhoods during the coronavirus crisis by restricting movement to and from them with police checkpoints even before identifying cases of infection. Local governments quarantined at least nine Romani neighborhoods during the pandemic compared with only three non-Romani communities. NGOs pointed out that while Romani neighborhoods were locked down, which restricted their residents’ access to basic services such as pharmacies and supermarkets, and contributed to higher unemployment, other neighborhoods with the same, or sometimes worse, levels of COVID-19 remained open. After the government lifted the state of emergency in May, VMRO insisted that Romani “ghettos” should remain restricted.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition. NGOs frequently petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to order the government to freeze the razing of homes in Romani neighborhoods until authorities provided adequate alternative accommodation for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and sick persons. In August the local government in Stara Zagora demolished 97 illegally built dwellings in the Romani neighborhood of Loznitsa, planning to turn the open space into a pine forest. Residents affected by the demolition told journalists they had been paying taxes on their properties and had no housing alternative, but the municipality had refused to sell them the land and legalize the houses.

The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, provided that instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. Local government and school officials reported they were instructed to ensure that primary school classes were conducted only in Bulgarian, even in schools where more than 50 percent of the students had Turkish or Romani as their mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish.

According to the National Statistical Institute, the average number of students who learned their mother tongue in public schools declined by nearly 14 percent for a second consecutive year, although there was a 22 percent increase in the number of Romani students studying their mother tongue. However, Romani NGOs claimed there were no students learning Romani and there was no officially approved textbook. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian, but none in Turkish.

On October 14, Kemal Eshref, GERB party regional coordinator and spouse of the deputy regional governor of Shumen, wrote on Facebook that since more than 50 percent of the population in Shumen was Turkish, school instruction in the region should be in Turkish. GERB’s local leadership distanced itself from Eshref’s statement, opposition socialist member of the National Assembly Ivan Ivanov called for prosecutorial investigation, and VMRO National Assembly member Dean Stanchev characterized it as “scandalous provocation, bordering on national treason since it represents an open call to separatism.” After the backlash, Eshref posted an apology on October 17 “to all who felt offended by his previous post,” explaining that it referred to allowing Turkish-speaking students an opportunity to learn their language as part of the elective curriculum.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students. In March the Blagoevgrad regional court confirmed the Commission for Protection against Discrimination’s sanction on a local school principal for racial segregation and ethnic discrimination. In 2018 the principal refused to enroll new Romani students, arguing that the school had become segregated and she wanted to reverse that trend.

The Education Ministry provided financial support to municipalities that pursued policies for educational desegregation and prevention of resegregation.

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 245 mediators in 130 municipalities.

According to the BHC, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. Romani NGOs stated that some municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to services in order to restrict Romani women’s access to them. For example, the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad both require the mother to have completed secondary school.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. In September the Commission for Protection against Discrimination opened an inquiry into social media publications alleging the Heaven Hotel in Slanchev Bryag displayed signs advising that the swimming pool was for “white people only” and proclaiming “White Lives Matter.” Hotel owner Georgi Slavov denied to local media the existence of the signs but also expressed regret he had not put them up, since he claimed hotels were allowed that cater to guests based on whether they have children and for gays, so “why not [allow hotels] only for white people?”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition. No laws protect against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Societal intolerance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted.

There were reports of violence against LGBTI persons. On September 27, a group of approximately 30 teenagers, who had a goal of “cleansing” gays and lesbians, reportedly assaulted boys and girls whom they perceived as gay or lesbian with eggs, flour, and punches in the city garden in Plovdiv, shouting homophobic insults. Videos from the incident appeared on social media networks. As of October police had identified the attackers and had referred their names to the local education inspectorate for counseling with school psychologists. Police investigated by collecting evidence, examining videos, and interrogating witnesses. Police prevented similar occurrences in Burgas and Sofia after NGOs alerted them that incidents were being organized on Facebook. LGBTI NGOs expressed concern that authorities underestimated the homophobic threat when police initially provided little security at a scheduled demonstration in support of LGBTI rights on October 10 in Plovdiv. This allowed a group of counterdemonstrators to surround LGBTI activists and block their march for nearly an hour. Graffiti with threats appeared on the facades of the building where the organizer of the Plovdiv event worked and on the home of another local LGBTI activist.

According to LGBTI organizations, courts rejected the right of same-sex partners for protection against domestic violence because the law treats “spousal” only as applying to married persons who cannot legally be the same sex. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving very few cases–two as of October–regarding sexual orientation. In May the Supreme Administrative Court revoked a decision of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination which had dismissed a 2019 complaint regarding homophobic threats and insults on Facebook against the Balkan Pride exhibition in Plovdiv. The court ruled that the commission had not fully utilized its powers to require law enforcement authorities to identify the authors of the offensive posts and had instead accepted the Interior Ministry’s “excuse” that it was unable to obtain data traffic information on user profiles due to Facebook being owned by a foreign company.

In May the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that nearly 30 percent of LGBTI persons had experienced workplace discrimination. Further, nearly 40 percent of the LGBTI persons who had experienced workplace discrimination did not report it due to fear of police discrimination based on their sexual identity. A March study by the NGOs Single Step and Bilitis reported that 83 percent of LGBTI students had experienced homophobic insults, 70 percent had suffered harassment, 34 percent had been physically abused, and 19 percent had been assaulted, while 50 percent never reported incidents. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s annual report released in February, cases where officials publicly used homophobic speech increased.

NGOs stated persons suspected of being gay were often fired from their jobs, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as LGBTI. Many health professionals considered LGBTI status a disease. The general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in refusal of health services, particularly to transgender persons. NGOs complained that most political parties in the National Assembly, government ministers, and municipal authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue on the challenges facing LGBTI individuals and related policy issues.

NGOs urged the government to discontinue normalization therapies on intersex children, which were funded by the National Health Insurance Fund with consent from their parents.

In June the Sofia city court overturned a Sofia regional court decision to fine a couple and to issue a public reprimand for libelously stating in a complaint to police that the husband’s police officer brother was gay. The Sofia city court found that the trial court had violated the plaintiff’s right to privacy by accepting evidence and requesting a technical examination of his sexual orientation. The court further found that the defendants’ “views on homosexuality or transgenderness are only meaningful to themselves” and that their “discriminatory prejudice cannot stigmatize a certain sexual orientation and its public manifestation.”

On August 5, vandals destroyed posters from an exhibition titled Together Is Super which had been installed hours earlier on Lovers Bridge in Sofia as part of the Summer Festival of Equal Rights. The posters featured photographs of LGBTI, deaf, and Romani persons, and provided information about their communities and the discrimination against them. Authorities did nothing in response.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

NGOs accused the health minister of age discrimination, and a group of lawyers challenged in the court his May 13 order which provided for mandatory isolation and hospitalization of COVID-19 patients who were 60 and older. On May 19, the minister amended the order, removing that provision.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides for workers to receive up to six months’ salary as compensation for illegal dismissal, and provides for the right of the employee to demand reinstatement for such dismissal. Workers alleging discrimination based on union affiliation can file complaints with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, despite the constitutional recognition of the right of association, the law did not provide for it, which prevented parties to a dispute from seeking redress in administrative court.

There are some limitations on these rights. The law prohibits Interior Ministry and judicial system officials from membership in national union federations. When employers and labor unions reach a collective agreement at the sector level, they must obtain the agreement of the minister of labor to extend it to cover all enterprises in the sector. The law prohibits most public servants from engaging in collective bargaining. The law also prohibits employees of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Intelligence, the National Protection Service, the courts, and prosecutorial and investigative authorities from striking. Those employees are able to take the government to court to provide due process in protecting their rights.

The law gives the right to strike to other public service employees, except for senior public servants, as long as at least 50 percent of the workers support the strike. The law also limits the ability of transport workers to organize their administrative activities and formulate their programs. Labor unions stated that the legal limitations on the right to strike and the lack of criminal liability for employers who abuse their workers’ right of association are contrary to the constitution.

Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions continued to report cases of employer obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of employees, including relocation, firing, and demotion of union leaders and members. Labor unions also alleged that some employers obstructed negotiations or refused to bargain in good faith or adhere to agreements. In September the regional court in Ruse confirmed the labor inspectorate’s decision to sanction local company Danini, which started mass layoffs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic without prior consultations with union representatives and representatives of the employees, as required by law, and made no efforts to negotiate an agreement with them that could reduce or mitigate the consequences of the layoffs.

In June the St. Sophia Hospital in Sofia fired nurse Maya Ilieva, leader of the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists, who led a series of protests complaining of low pay and difficult working conditions. She was similarly dismissed from Tokuda Hospital in August 2019. In August the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists set up a tent camp protest in front of the Health Ministry, accusing authorities of excluding medical specialists other than physicians and dentists from the latest national framework agreement on medical activities.

The government did not effectively enforce the labor law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. Penalties for discrimination carry lower fines than the fines for labor law violations. The law does not effectively protect against interference by employers in labor union activities.

Judicial and administrative procedures were adequate in settling claims. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that employers broke the law and eroded the value of collective bargaining by letting nonunion members take advantage of the provisions in the collective agreement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There were some reports of families and criminal organizations subjecting children to forced work (see section 7.c.). The national antitrafficking commission reported receiving an increased number of labor exploitation complaints. The commission attributed these complaints to the increased number of persons who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and who exercised less caution in accepting employment opportunities. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, “children and adults with disabilities are forced into street begging and petty theft.” As of October authorities registered 26 cases of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor exploitation, although that was a significant decrease from the same period in 2019.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. To employ children younger than 18, employers must obtain a work permit from the government’s General Labor Inspectorate. Employers can hire children younger than 16 with special permits for light work that is not hazardous or harmful to the child’s development and does not interfere with the child’s education or training.

Employment of children without a work permit is a criminal offense but it is not a serious crime and carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine. Penalties for the worst forms of child labor, however, are commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The General Labor Inspectorate was generally effective in inspecting working conditions at companies seeking and holding child work permits and applying sanctions regarding child labor in the formal sector. The inspectorate reported a 50 percent decrease in legal employment of children. In 2019 the inspectorate uncovered 236 cases of child employment without prior permission, a twofold increase from 2018.

The government continued programs to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, mounted educational campaigns, and intervened to protect, withdraw, rehabilitate, and reintegrate children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

NGOs continued to report the exploitation of children in certain industries, particularly small family-owned shops, textile production, restaurants, construction businesses, and periodical sales, and by organized crime–notably for prostitution, pickpocketing, and the distribution of narcotics. Children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Romani children, were exposed to harmful and exploitative work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation with regard to nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, race, skin color, age, social origin, language, political and religious beliefs, membership in labor unions and civil society organizations, family and marital status, and mental or physical disabilities. Although the government usually effectively enforced these laws, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across all sectors of the economy with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and minority group status. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving numerous discrimination complaints during the year related to employment of persons with disabilities, citing examples in which employers created hostile and threatening environments towards an employee with a disability or intentionally created mobility obstacles to push the employee to quit.

The government funded programs to encourage employers to overcome stereotypes and prejudice when hiring members of disadvantaged groups such as persons with disabilities.

The law requires the Interior Ministry, the State Agency for National Security, and the State Agency for Technical Operations to allot one percent of their public administration positions to persons with disabilities. Enforcement was poor, however, and the agencies were not motivated to hire persons with disabilities, citing inaccessible infrastructure, lack of sufficient funding for modifying workplaces, and poor qualifications by the applicants. The Center for Independent Living and other NGOs criticized the system of evaluating persons with disabilities based on the degree of their disability, which effectively prevented many persons with disabilities who were able to work from being hired.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. In July the Council of Ministers reported that men received 12.5 percent more pay than women for work in the same position. According to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, there were twice as many men as women with well paid jobs, and women were more frequently subjected to workplace discrimination than men. As a result of the gender pay gap, according to the National Social Security Institute, women received 32 percent lower pensions. Women continued to face discrimination in regard to pension benefits and retirement. The age at which women and men can access both full and partial pension benefits was not equal, nor was the legal retirement age.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. Locating work was more difficult for Roma due to general public mistrust, coupled with the Roma’s low average level of education. According to the National Statistical Institute, 64.8 percent of Roma lived in poverty, compared with 31.6 percent of Turks and 16.7 percent of ethnic Bulgarians.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy that was higher than the government’s official poverty line. Labor unions criticized the government for changing the methodology for designation of the official poverty line with a view to preserving the fiscal health of the state budget while neglecting the livelihoods of vulnerable citizens. According to NGOs, giving the labor and social policy minister discretion to set the official poverty line instead of having it determined by macroeconomic factors created risks of limiting the scope of persons entitled to certain social support and could be exploited for political purposes. In July the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that 67 percent of households lived below the livelihood protection threshold and 28.5 percent lived below the poverty line.

In 2019 the General Labor Inspectorate reported that the cases of unpaid wages increased by 1 percent, compared with the previous year. The inspectorate maintained that its authority to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against employers who owed more than two months’ wages to at least one-third of their employees for three years contributed to the effective enforcement of correct payment of wages. During the coronavirus emergency in the first half of the year, labor inspectors compelled employers to pay 2.5 million levs ($1.5 million) out of an identified 4.5 million levs ($2.7 million) of unpaid wages.

The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime and prohibits any overtime work for children younger than 18 and for pregnant women. Persons with disabilities, women with children younger than six, and persons undertaking continuing education may work overtime at the employer’s request if the employee provides written consent. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria stated that employers increasingly “disrespected employees’ working hours and free time.” The confederation criticized the law’s provision for calculating accumulated working time, noting that it gave employers a way to abuse overtime requirements and thus to hire fewer workers. In December the National Assembly passed amendments increasing the amount of annual allowed overtime work within a collective agreement from 150 to 300 hours.

A national labor safety program, with standards established by law, provides employees the right to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of similar violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Each year the government adopts a program that outlines its goals and priorities for occupational safety and health. The General Labor Inspectorate, which had 28 regional offices, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing occupational safety and health requirements. Of the violations identified by the inspectorate, 51.8 percent involved safety and health requirements. According to the labor inspectorate, its activity over the past several years increased compliance to 93 percent of inspected companies. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Legal protections and government inspections did not cover informal workers in the gray-market economy, which, according to the National Statistical Institute, accounted for 21 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. In September the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria said it expected the share of the gray economy to increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During the two-month state of emergency, the law allowed employers to assign teleworking and work at home and force workers to use half of their accrued annual leave. The law also lifted the overtime work ban for workers and civil servants who assisted the health-care system and police.

Conditions in sectors such as construction, mining, chemicals, and transportation continued to pose risks for workers. The number of work-related accidents registered in the first nine months of the year decreased by almost 19 percent over the same period in the previous year. Land transportation violations were the most common causes of occupational accidents. The government strictly enforced the law requiring companies to conduct occupational health and safety risk assessments and to adopt measures to eliminate or reduce any identified risks. Approximately 95 percent of the companies inspected in 2019 had such risk assessments, and 98 percent of those had programs to eliminate the identified risks.

There were 55 work-related deaths as of October, mainly in the construction and transportation sectors, nearly comparable to the 50 deaths reported from January through September 2019.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In July, Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected president for a four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and orderly.

The National Police are under the minister of interior and police and in practice report to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, Tourist Security Corps, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Armed Forces and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both police and armed forces, reports directly to the president, as does the National Department of Intelligence. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; and police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took some steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but there were widespread reports of official impunity and corruption, especially among senior officials.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.

NGO representatives said the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance.

In compliance with his campaign promise to appoint an independent prosecutor, President Luis Abinader named Miriam German as the new attorney general in August. Following her appointment, German added 19 new members to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Administrative Corruption. On November 29, the specialized anticorruption unit arrested 10 individuals closely associated with former president Danilo Medina’s administration on public corruption charges. The prosecution continued at year’s end.

Corruption: The trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts resumed in September. It was previously scheduled to take place in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The six defendants included two former senators, a former lower-house representative, and a former minister of public works. Civil society organizations welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will thoroughly to investigate the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites.

NGO representatives criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage. They alleged many civil servants received a government salary without performing any work. In September the Foreign Ministry dismissed 781 officials and stated the majority of them did not fulfill their job duties or did not have the qualifications for the position.

NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police officers, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police officers, judges, and minor officials. Widespread acceptance and tolerance of petty corruption, however, hampered anticorruption efforts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, vice president, members of Congress, some agency heads, and some other officials, including tax and customs duty collectors, to declare their personal property within 30 days of being hired, elected, re-elected, or ending their official responsibilities. These declarations are made public. The constitution further requires public officials to declare the provenance of their property. The Chamber of Accounts is responsible for receiving and reviewing these declarations. On November 27, the government announced the suspension without pay of 36 public officials for failing to submit their sworn declaration of assets on time.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent faced occasional government obstruction.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman. The ombudsman’s functions are to safeguard human rights and protect collective interests. There is also a human rights commission, cochaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, spousal rape, domestic violence, incest, and sexual aggression. Sentences for rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a modest fine. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes even when victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.

The Ministry of Women promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community by implementing education and awareness programs, as well as training other ministries and offices. The ministry operated shelters and provided counseling services, although NGO representatives argued these efforts were inadequate.

In September a woman was attacked with a mix of sulfuric, hydrochloric, and muriatic acid, a concoction commonly referred to as devil’s acid. She suffered chemical burns on 40 percent of her body and lost some of her vision. Her former boyfriend and two other men were arrested in connection with the attack and charged with conspiracy, torture, and gender-based violence. In leaked audio conversations, friends advised the defendant to attack the woman with acid to avoid trouble, instead of killing her. Although outlawed, the acid concoction was easily accessible.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment by an authority figure as a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a large fine. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and generally had access to the means and information to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Low income was a barrier to accessing information.

Family-planning NGOs provided contraceptives without charge. Many low-income women, however, used them inconsistently due to lack of information, irregular availability, societal influences, and cultural male dominance. Religious beliefs and social customs reduced the use of modern methods of family planning.

The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Women, but most of the burden for providing these services fell on women’s rights NGOs, and abortion is illegal even in the case of rape or incest.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. In addition no law requires equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see also section 2.g.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. Children not registered at birth remain undocumented until the parents file a late declaration of birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children younger than age 18, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a large fine for persons convicted of physical and psychological abuse of a minor. Despite this legal framework for combatting child abuse, local NGOs reported that few cases were reported to authorities and fewer still were prosecuted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of female minors, at younger than age 18 was common. According to a 2019 UNICEF-supported government survey, 12 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 36 percent by age 18. In addition, 22 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant, an issue directly related to early marriage. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas. More than one-half of the women in the country’s poorest quintile were married by age 17. In late December, Congress passed a bill prohibiting marriage of persons younger than 18. The bill had the support of the Abinader administration and was expected to take effect in January 2021.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than 18. NGO representatives noted that due to the law allowing marriage with parental consent for girls as young as 15, some men arranged to marry girls to avoid prosecution for statutory rape. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a significant fine.

Children were exploited for commercial sex, particularly in tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, health care, and transportation. The law provides for access to basic services, such as access to the labor market, as well as recreational and cultural activities. It also provides for physical access to all new public and private buildings. It specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities and to operate specialized schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states the government should provide access to the labor market and to cultural, recreational, and religious activities for persons with disabilities, but the law was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for care of children with disabilities, one each in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. These centers served a small percentage of the population with disabilities, offering their services to children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. They had lengthy waiting lists for children seeking to receive care. The most recent information, from a 2016 Ministry of Education report, found that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended some form of school.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of skin color and nationality. There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants (see also sections 1.d., 2.d., and 2.g.).

In October residents of a neighborhood in Santiago were filmed throwing stones and hitting Haitian residents with sticks in an effort to drive them out of their homes. The group also burned the belongings of the Haitians and threatened to burn down their dwellings if they did not move out of the area immediately. The group claimed the Haitian families were undocumented and posed a health and security risk to the neighborhood.

A mayor posted a video on the city’s official social media accounts where he reprimanded a group of children who appeared to be gambling in a park. Social media commentators said that his video, in which he referred to the youth as “a group of Haitians,” unnecessarily made their nationality a factor in the situation and stoked anti-Haitian sentiment.

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

The constitution upholds the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTI persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services. NGO representatives reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, the government, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization reported that workers in various industries may have faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many job applicants found to have HIV were not hired, and some of those already employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed suspected criminals in vigilante reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary. The government acknowledged only a single instance of this type of attack and did not provide information on any subsequent investigation or conviction.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, the law restricts collective bargaining rights to those unions that represent a minimum of 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met.

Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike. The government considers the following as essential workers: teachers and public service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. In recent years there were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.

Labor NGO representatives reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. In recent years companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of engaging in forced labor. Such penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

Forced labor of adults occurred in construction, agriculture, and services. Forced labor of children also occurred (see section 7.c.).

The law applies equally to all workers regardless of nationality, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGO representatives reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor in a manner consistent with international standards. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than 16, limiting them to six working hours per day. For persons younger than 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were insufficient inspections, and inspectors lacked authority to initiate sanctions. Incomplete or incorrect labor inspection reports and insufficient prosecutorial resources led to few prosecutions on criminal matters involving child labor issues.

The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, or in domestic work, street vending, or begging (see also section 6). Children were also used in illicit activities including drug trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution creates a right of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or stateless status. No law mandates equal pay for equal work.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV or AIDS, and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, those of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6).

In September 2019 the Ministry of the Economy released a report showing the per-hour labor wage gap between men and women continued to increase.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and the type of labor. As of October 2019, the minimum wage for all sectors within the formal economy, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation.

The law covers different labor sectors individually. For example, the laws covering domestic workers establish lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration than for other sectors and do not provide for notice or severance payments. The labor code also covers workers in the free-trade zones, but those workers are not entitled to bonus payments, which represent a significant part of the income of most workers in the country.

The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector, which comprised approximately one-half of all workers. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations that are appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face other punishments for their action.

Authorities conducted inspections but did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and to recommend sanctions. The Public Ministry, the independent prosecutors’ ministry, is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; in practice it infrequently applied penalties.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of the maximum allowable work hours.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.

Industrial accidents caused injury and death to workers. During the year a court ordered a fuel supplier to pay two million Dominican pesos ($34,000) to the family members of three workers killed in a 2018 explosion at a plastics factory that left six persons dead and many others wounded.

Hungary

Executive Summary

Hungary is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The unicameral National Assembly (parliament) exercises legislative authority. It elects the president (the head of state) every five years. The president appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition in parliament following national elections every four years. In parliamentary elections in 2018, the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance led by Fidesz party leader Viktor Orban won a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observation mission found that “fundamental rights and freedoms were respected overall, but exercised in an adverse climate.” Specifically, it characterized certain elements of the election as “at odds with the organization’s commitments” and noted, “The widespread government information campaign was largely indistinguishable from Fidesz campaigning, giving it a clear advantage.” Orban has been prime minister since 2010.

The National Police Headquarters, under the direction of the minister of interior, is responsible for maintaining order nationwide. The Counterterrorism Center is responsible for protecting the president and the prime minister and for preventing, uncovering, and detecting terrorist acts; it is directly subordinate to the minister of interior. The Hungarian Defense Forces are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security as well as aspects of domestic security and disaster response. Since 2015, under a declared state of emergency prompted by mass migration, defense forces may assist law enforcement forces in border protection and handling mass migration situations. The state of emergency was renewed in September for another six months. On April 29, the government amended a decree passed under the coronavirus state of emergency law that allows the minister of interior to involve police and the military to participate in the protection of medical resources and permits the military during the state of emergency to take part in street patrols and in monitoring compliance with security measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: criminal penalties for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” or libel (although court decisions limited the impact of the latter); exposure of asylum seekers to risk of refoulement; allegations of corrupt use of state power to grant privileges to certain economic actors; reports of political intimidation of and legal restrictions on civil society organizations, including criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of nongovernmental organizations; and threats of violence by extremists targeting Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for human rights abuses was not widespread.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, few such cases were lodged or prosecuted during the year. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement or apply these laws effectively and that officials and those with close government connections often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Anticorruption NGOs alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. The Corruption Research Center Budapest identified several cases of bid rigging and other corruption risk indicators in public tenders with EU funding. The research center concluded that companies with close links to the government faced significantly less competition and were able to obtain higher prices when bidding for EU-funded projects.

In its September 30 Rule of Law Report, the European Commission found deficiencies in the country’s anticorruption policies and that the government did not sufficiently address nepotism and favoritism, noting specifically that, “when serious allegations arise, there is a systematic lack of determined action to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-level officials or their immediate circle.” The report also noted, “tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption.”

On December 15, parliament modified the constitution by introducing a new definition of public funds that limited them to “income, expenditures, and claims of the state.” Another amendment declared that the creation and operation of so-called asset management foundations–such as the ones that granted the government ownership of several universities, including the University of Theater and Film Arts (see section 2, Academic Freedom)–were governed by cardinal law requiring a two-thirds majority to change. Transparency watchdogs and opposition parties criticized both amendments, warning that under the new definition of public funds the government would not be compelled to release data on the operation of state-owned enterprises and public funds in response to freedom of information requests, shielding the government from public scrutiny.

In February the European Commission’s European Semester Report on the country stated that corruption remained an important concern. Although the commission noted minimal improvement during the previous year, it stated that further steps were necessary to strengthen transparency and competition in public procurement. The report also called for the Prosecutor General’s Office to pursue corruption cases more effectively and determined that “systemic action by Hungarian authorities to prosecute high-level corruption was lacking.” “The weakening of checks and balances, weak accountability and obstacles to access to public information hinder the fight against corruption,” the report concluded.

Corruption: In its 2019 annual report released on September 10, the European antifraud office OLAF found 43 cases of potential fraud in the country associated with EU development funds received between 2015 and 2019. OLAF recommended that the government repay 3.93 percent of the funds it received during the 2015-19 period. Observers noted that OLAF’s limited resources allowed it to review only a fraction of the tens thousands of EU cases in which EU funds were disbursed to member states.

On January 14, a criminal case against ruling Fidesz party member of parliament Gyorgy Simonka was launched in the Budapest Court of Justice. In August 2019 prosecutors charged Simonka and 32 associates of running a criminal organization that fraudulently obtained 1.4 billion forints ($4.6 million) in EU and state funds through a complex web of companies. Simonka was also accused of both paying and accepting bribes, reportedly paying 20 million forints ($67,000) in bribes to stop Tax Office investigations at his companies. According to the charges, two companies linked to him undertook overpriced EU and state-funded projects with Simonka’s help and transferred kickbacks in cash and other forms through intermediaries to the politician. Prosecutors were reportedly seeking an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Simonka and the confiscation of his assets in the value of 850 million forints ($2.8 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, senior government officials, the president of the Supreme Court and his deputies, and the prosecutor general to publish asset declarations on a regular basis. NGOs claimed that public officials circumvented the required disclosures by placing assets in the names of spouses, who are not required to file asset declarations. The vast majority of public-sector employees, including law enforcement and army officers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and public servants, were also obliged to submit asset declarations, which are not publicly accessible. NGOs noted there were no criminal or administrative sanctions for submitting inaccurate asset declarations and asserted there was no effective method to detect violators. The European Commission’s Rule of Law Report noted a lack of transparency in political party financing, asset disclosure, and lobbying.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operated with some government restrictions affecting their funding. Government officials were generally uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.

On June 18, the ECJ ruled that the country’s 2017 law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law. The ECJ declared that the legislation unduly restricted free movement of capital and interfered with fundamental rights, including protection of personal data and freedom of association, respect for private life, as well as citizens’ right to participate in public life. Reacting to the ECJ ruling, an umbrella organization for the affected NGOs, the Civilization Coalition, wrote, “The decision is particularly important for all of Hungarian society, because the government has for years been trying to undermine NGOs working for the common good.” Justice Minister Judit Varga stated the government was committed to ensuring the transparency of NGOs. Despite the ruling, in September a government-established public foundation rejected an EU grant application from a human rights NGO over alleged noncompliance with the law. The law had not been repealed as of November.

At the beginning of the year, several government officials and progovernment media alleged that NGOs and their attorneys were profiting from “prison business” when, representing inmates, they sued the state for compensation due to poor prison conditions (also see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). Speaking about the Gyongyospata school segregation lawsuit (see section 6, Members of Minority Groups) and referring to human rights groups as “Soros organizations,” the officials also claimed such NGOs should not be able in future to “use Roma families as a tool to launch fundraising campaigns, disturb social peace, and reward those who do not go to school.”

On December 21, Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced the signing of an agreement with Hungary on the disbursement framework for 214.6 million euros ($262 million) in grants from the Norwegian government to support NGOs, climate protection projects, renewable energy, and other development projects. The government initially insisted on determining which NGOs would receive money designated for civil society but reached a compromise whereby a company acceptable to both parties would be chosen to determine the allocation of grant funds to NGOs. Norway stressed that the company’s independence from governmental influence remained a precondition to the agreement. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein suspended payment to Hungary in 2014 after the government insisted on playing a bigger role in disbursing funds to NGOs in the country, and the government’s audit office raided the offices of one of the NGOs responsible for managing the grants, in what civil society organizations described as a politically motivated investigation that did not result in any charges.

In October, NGOs reported that authorities had closed the investigation into the October 2019 attack on the Aurora NGO center, during which approximately 50 members from the neo-Nazi Legio Hungaria group vandalized the center and burned the pride flag that was hanging outside, without filing any charges (see section 6).

On November 17, the Budapest Capital Regional Court ruled that police had failed in their duty when they did not take immediate action against a group of far-right extremists who had forced their way into an LGBTI event at the Aurora Center in September 2019, chanting homophobic slurs and physically harassing the event participants for three hours, forcing organizers to cancel it (see section 6).

In November 2019 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released statements regarding a media report that the state media conglomerate MTVA banned its staff from covering human rights organizations’ reports, which they described as an attempt to undermine media freedom and further restrict NGOs’ work in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the office of the commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsperson). The ombudperson has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsperson is nominated by the president and elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament. The ombudsperson is solely accountable to parliament and has the authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from abuse by authorities and entities providing public services. The constitution provides that the ombudsperson may request that the Constitutional Court review laws. The ombudsperson is also responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption, and operates the national preventive mechanism against torture. Ombudsperson recommendations are not binding. During the international re-accreditation process of the ombudsperson’s office as a “national human rights institution,” the October 2019 report by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) noted that the office “did not demonstrate adequate efforts in all human rights issues, nor has it spoken out in a manner that promoted and protected all human rights.” During the year GANHRI decided to defer the review of the ombudsperson’s office for one year. On December 1, parliament voted to transfer the mandate and tasks of the Equal Treatment Authority to the ombudsperson as of January 1, 2021 (see section 6).

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Although there is no crime defined as rape, the equivalent crimes are sexual coercion and sexual violence. These crimes include the exploitation of a person who is unable to express his or her will. Penalties for sexual coercion and sexual violence range from one year in prison to 15 years in aggravated cases.

The criminal code includes “violence within partnership” (domestic violence) as a separate category of offense. Regulations extend prison sentences for assault (“light bodily harm”) to three years, while grievous bodily harm, violation of personal freedom, or coercion may be punishable by one to five years in prison, if committed against domestic persons.

By law police called to a scene of domestic violence may issue an emergency restraining order valid for three days in lieu of immediately filing charges, while courts may issue up to 60-day “preventive restraining orders” in civil cases, without the option to extend.

Women’s rights NGOs continued to criticize the law for not placing sufficient emphasis on the accountability of perpetrators and the tendency of authorities to blame the victims. In November 2019 local media reported on a woman who shared photos on Facebook about how she had been physically assaulted on several occasions by her partner, a former member of the defense forces. While an investigation was underway in the case, her partner sued the woman for defamation and breach of his privacy rights. Women’s rights groups held a solidarity protest during the court hearing in Miskolc on September 28.

The Ministry of Human Capacities continued to operate a 24-hour toll-free hotline for victims of domestic violence and trafficking in persons. The ministry also sponsored crisis centers and secure shelters for victims of domestic violence operated by civil society organizations and church institutions. The crisis centers provided immediate accommodation and care for individuals and families for up to 90 days. The secure shelters addressed the needs of severely abused women whose lives were in danger, who were allowed a maximum stay of six months at the shelters. One type of service was the “crisis ambulance,” which provided mobile walk-in consultations, but not accommodation, for survivors of domestic violence.

NGOs criticized the lack of training on gender-based violence for professionals and emphasized the need for broader awareness-raising efforts among the public to encourage victims to seek assistance and report violence without stigmatization.

Sexual Harassment: By law harassment of a sexual nature constitutes a violation of the equal treatment principle but is not a crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. During the year the state took over fertility clinics and began providing state-subsidized assisted reproductive services (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization), primarily tailored to support heterosexual married couples who experienced difficulty conceiving naturally. LGBTI NGOs characterized access to assisted reproductive technologies as discriminatory against same-sex couples.

Contraceptives were available but were not covered by the state health-care system, which limited access of marginalized groups living in poverty, including Romani women. Sterilization for family-planning (nonmedical) reasons is limited to persons who are older than age 40 or already have three biological children.

The government operated state-funded shelters and a hotline for victims of crime, including sexual violence against women, but these did not provide specialized assistance and sexual and reproductive health services for survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. According to the Economists 2018 glass ceiling index, women constituted 14.5 percent of company board membership, based on 2017 data. Women’s rights organizations asserted that Romani women could suffer multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and class, and experienced barriers to equal access in education, health care, housing, employment, and justice.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship from a parent who is a citizen. Births were registered immediately. NGOs asserted the law provides only partial safeguards against statelessness at birth because all children of foreign parents born in the country are registered on birth certificates as being of unknown nationality. In addition the NGOs claimed that children born to stateless parents or to noncitizen parents who cannot pass on their nationality to their children were in some cases born and remained stateless.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education between the ages of three and 16 and prohibits school segregation, NGOs reported the segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled. The European Commission opened an infringement procedure in 2016 due to concerns about the disproportionate overrepresentation of Romani children in special schools with intellectual disabilities as well as a considerable degree of segregated education in mainstream schools.

On February 13, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its observations regarding the country’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child between 2014 and 2019. The report expressed concerns about continuing segregation of Romani children in schools and the increased gap in attainment between Romani and non-Romani children in different levels of education. The findings also noted that while there were more than 200 amendments of general legislation affecting children’s rights, the government did not assess the impact of these amendments before and after their adoption.

On March 13, the government announced that all schools would stay closed as an effort against the spread of COVID-19, with all students required to continue education through digital platforms. This posed a problem for disadvantaged children, particularly in the Romani community. Throughout March several Romani NGOs drew attention to the fact that Romani children often lived together with adults in small, overcrowded spaces that were unsuitable for distance learning and often lacked internet connections and electronic devices. They added that many Romani parents were undereducated and unable to help their children with their studies at home or to give them hot meals, which schools typically provided. More than 120 civil organizations across the country set up an action group to deliver food and other donations to families living in deep poverty.

On May 12, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints ($330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years (see section 6, Ethnic Minority Groups). In response to the ruling, parliament in June amended the public education law to ban courts from awarding financial compensation as damages to those who received segregated education.

A 2019 report prepared by Romani and pro-Roma NGOs stated that one-half of Romani students dropped out of the education system. Only 24 percent of Romani students finished high school, compared with 75 percent of non-Romani students. Only 5 percent of Romani students entered university, compared with 35 percent of non-Romani students. The report noted that segregating Romani children in schools and lowering the mandatory school age to 16 contributed to high dropout rates.

In September the Ministry of Human Capacities cut state subsidies to public schools run by the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship and Igazgyongy Foundation as well as the Dr. Ambedkar School, attended mostly by Romani children.

Child Abuse: Efforts to combat child abuse included a “child protection signaling system” to detect and prevent the endangerment of children; law enforcement and judicial measures; restraining orders; shelters for mothers and their children; and removal of children from homes deemed unsafe. The law provides that failure of a parent to “cooperate” with the doctors, district nurses, teachers, or family supporters in the signaling system automatically constitutes gross endangerment, even without any other signs of negligence or endangerment.

In December 2019 a man from the city of Gyor who was just released from prison for attacking his wife with a hammer in 2016, beat his 13-year-old stepdaughter and 10-year-old son to death, then hanged himself. The case received widespread media attention.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The Social and Guardianship Office may authorize marriages of persons between the ages of 16 and 18. The guardianship authorities consider whether a girl is pregnant in making their determination. Limited data exists regarding the prevalence of child marriage in the country, including in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography. The statute of limitations does not apply to sexual crimes against children. The government generally enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 12, provided the older partner is 18 or younger. Persons older than 18 who engage in sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 12 and 14 may be punished by one to five years’ imprisonment. By law statutory rape is a felony punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 12.

NGOs criticized the practice of punishing children who were victims of sexual exploitation as misdemeanor offenders. On March 10, parliament passed amendments to laws regarding “action against exploitation of victims of human trafficking.” The new provisions entered into force on July 1 and prohibit the punishment of minors exploited in prostitution. Procuring minors for prostitution and exploitation of child prostitution is now a crime punishable by imprisonment between two to eight years.

In July the country’s former ambassador to Peru received a one-year suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay a 540,000 forint ($1,800) fine for the possession of pornographic photos of children. The sentence prompted public and legal debates that punishments involving child pornography should be more stringent.

Institutionalized Children: The February report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the high number of children living in institutional settings, including 300 children under three years of age. According to UNICEF Hungary, approximately 23,000 children were living in state care institutions. Pro-Roma NGOs noted that institutionalized children living in state care were especially vulnerable to human trafficking for prostitution and criticized the lack of special assistance for child victims of trafficking. In a 2018 report, the ombudsperson stated that one-third of children were placed in child protection care because of their families’ poor financial circumstances.

In August former residents and staff of the children’s home in Kalocsa told local media about the physical and verbal abuse that took place inside the institution for decades. The ombudsperson’s report from 2016 had concluded that supervisors regularly abused children.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 10,965 persons identified their religion as Judaism. According to estimates from the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish population numbered between 35,000 and 120,000 persons. A 2018 study published in Szombat, a leading Hungarian Jewish news outlet, found that 82 percent of Hungarian Jews had a direct family member or ancestor who lost their life in the Holocaust. Jewish organizations considered the Holocaust to represent a defining element in the identity of Hungarian Jews, and they regarded it as vital to preserve the memory of what occurred during the Holocaust.

The Action and Protection Foundation, a Jewish group monitoring anti-Semitism, registered 35 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2019. These were 27 cases of hate speech, six of vandalism, one threat, and one case of assault.

A prominent Jewish leader said that while Jews are not physically threatened in the country, the government engages in what often appears as anti-Semitic rhetoric that hurts many Jewish persons.

In an opinion piece published in the progovernment online outlet Origo on November 28, ministerial culture commissioner Szilard Demeter called a Jewish Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist the “liberal Fuhrer” and wrote that Europe was his “gas chamber” with “poisonous gas” flowing from the capsule of a “multicultural open society.” Referring to the row over the EU’s new rule of law mechanism, Demeter described Poles and Hungarians as “the new Jews” targeted by “liber-aryans.” The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) condemned Demeter’s comments as a “textbook example of Holocaust relativization” and “incompatible with the government-proclaimed zero tolerance against all forms of anti-Semitism”; the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation called Demeter’s comments “tasteless” and “unforgivable.” As of December government officials continued to defend Demeter’s continued tenure as a ministerial commissioner, arguing he had retracted the piece and apologized.

On March 5, graves at a Jewish cemetery in Kiskufelegyhaza were vandalized. Repair costs were estimated at between 300,000 and 2.5 million forints ($1,000 to $8,000).

On January 6, state-run Kossuth Radio station announced the appointment of Beatrix Siklosi as its new director. On January 27, in light of Siklosi’s history of making and spreading anti-Semitic and racist statements, 21 Jewish organizations published a joint open letter to the CEO of the public media organization MTVA, Daniel Papp, asking him to terminate Siklosi’s appointment. Papp rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism against Siklosi as unfounded.

On August 20, the government awarded the Hungarian Order of Merit to historian Erno Raffay, who has been criticized for disseminating anti-Semitic views. The European Commission coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, condemned Raffay in a social media post on August 25 for openly spreading “anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy myths.”

On January 31, the government adopted a new national curriculum that was introduced on September 1 in elementary and secondary public schools. Jewish groups expressed concern that the mandatory reading material included works by writers widely viewed as anti-Semitic and removed works by Imre Kertesz, Nobel laureate for literature and Hungarian Holocaust survivor.

On February 8, approximately 500 to 600 members of radical right-wing and neo-Nazi groups from Hungary and other European countries gathered for a “Day of Honor” in Budapest, commemorating the attempted breakout of German and Hungarian troops in February 1945 during the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army. Dressed in black and carrying flags of their respective far-right movements, they laid wreaths to honor “hero” Nazis and their collaborators. While police initially banned the event, a subsequent court ruling overturned the ban. Separated by a line of police, some 300 to 500 counterdemonstrators, including Romani groups, chanted and drummed during the event. No major conflicts were reported. The commemoration was followed by a march to the outskirts of Budapest following the route of the attempted siege-breakers, in which some participants wore historical uniforms and insignia. No senior government officials publicly condemned the event.

The opening of the House of Fates, a planned new Holocaust museum concept and education center in Budapest, remained pending due to controversy around the museum’s proposed concept. Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars criticized the museum’s proposed concept as an attempt to obscure the involvement of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust, given that Horthy allied Hungary with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews in summer 1944 to Nazi death camps.

On March 1, approximately 1,000 demonstrators took part in a march organized by the far-right party Mi Hazank and the Betyarsereg and 64 Counties extremist groups honoring the centennial of Horthy’s coming to power.

Jewish leaders criticized Laszlo Biro, a Jobbik party member and the opposition parties’ unsuccessful joint candidate in the October 11 by-election in Borsod County, for anti-Semitic and racist statements.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, communicational, and psychosocial disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.

There were no data available on the percentage of government buildings accessible to persons with disabilities.

The government reviewed its 2019-36 deinstitutionalization strategy to reduce the number of persons with disabilities living in institutions with capacities greater than 50 persons. On April 28, it published its action plan, valid until 2022, to implement the 2015-25 national program on disability issues. International and domestic NGOs called on the government to avoid sustaining institutional culture by building mini-institutions because risks for persons in these settings remain as serious as for those in larger institutions. In a report released April 16 on its visit to the country in 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that maintaining and expanding a national system of social care institutions “perpetuated segregation and isolation from society.” The report also stated that children with disabilities requiring high levels of support were overrepresented in segregated education. It also observed the prevalence of poor conditions in these institutions, overmedication, and violations of sexual and reproductive rights.

The constitution provides that a court may deprive persons with disabilities who are under guardianship of the right to vote in its adjudication of the individual’s limited mental capacity. NGOs noted that depriving persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities of their legal rights violated international conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities. Disability rights experts noted that persons with disabilities living in institutions were often placed under guardianship and noted the relative lack of government support for personal assistance in independent living situations.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. The study claimed the 2011 census underestimated the size of the Romani community, since Romani respondents often preferred not to disclose their minority status. To avoid biased responses, the researchers gathered data from municipal governments and from Romani self-government bodies instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity.

Human rights NGOs continued to report that Roma suffered social and economic exclusion and discrimination in almost all fields of life. According to an October 12 report prepared for the Council of Europe by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Roma faced discrimination in education, employment, and access to housing and health care.

On May 28, the Mi Hazank party, joined by a few hundred supporters, held a demonstration against what they called “Gypsy crime” in front of the building of the National Roma Self-Government in Budapest. The demonstration was in response to a double homicide in downtown Budapest in which a teenager stabbed two young men. Unconfirmed press reports in some conservative and right-wing media alleged that the suspect was of Romani ethnicity. A Mi Hazank politician claimed, “The majority of perpetrators [of criminal acts] belonged to the Romani minority.” Police prohibited the gathering citing COVID-19 restrictions, but the party maintained that the demonstration was an “act of mourning” outside the scope of the law. Under heavy police presence, some protesters lit smoke bombs, chanted, “Yes, Gypsy crime exists,” and marched to the site of the scene of the killing joined by individuals from far-right paramilitary organizations. In a May 28 statement, the National Roma Self-Government stated that hostile incitement against Roma was increasing and criticized those who hold them collectively responsible for criminal acts instead of acknowledging individual responsibility. On June 1, Romani civil rights activists reported that the Roma Holocaust memorial in Budapest was defaced with the text “Eradicating Gypsies = eradicating crime.”

In a high-profile May 12 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints (approximately $330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years. The educational authority and local government had asked the court to allow for educational instead of financial compensation, or to lower the compensation amount, but the court rejected both requests. On May 15, Prime Minister Orban called the ruling “unfair” and added: “It serves the law, but it does not deliver justice. From downtown Budapest, where the court is, justice for Gyongyospata is invisible. But we will find it.” The Fidesz member of parliament from Gyongyospata, Laszlo Horvath, called the ruling a “bad decision which disrupts social peace as it unilaterally and overwhelmingly punishes a whole town for the real or assumed grievances of a minority.”

On August 26, the Curia announced its ruling in favor of Romani mothers who were discriminated against in the maternity ward of a hospital in the city of Miskolc. The court agreed with the request by the plaintiff, the European Roma Rights Center, that the hospital immediately terminate the practice of requiring pregnant women’s family members to pay for a hygienic garment in order to accompany them in the hospital room. The plaintiff noted that Romani women were more likely to give birth alone and exposed to the risk of racist abuse and harassment by medical practitioners.

Segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled remained a problem (see section 6, Children). Observers claimed the public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for members of minorities in their own languages as required by law and that Romani language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights as well as to establish and operate institutions and maintain international contacts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, the law prohibits certain forms of hate speech and prescribes increased punishment for violence against members of the LGBTI community. Victims of discrimination had a wide choice of remedies, including a procedure by a designated government agency (the Equal Treatment Authority), enforcement of personality rights via civil court procedure, and sectoral remedies in media law. Only the civil procedure allows for the awarding of pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages. The Constitutional Court also offers possibilities to challenge allegedly discriminatory legislation. NGOs reported that the Equal Treatment Authority and courts enforced these antidiscrimination laws. On December 1, parliament voted to abolish the Equal Treatment Authority, viewed by LGBTI groups as one of the few remaining public bodies that delivered decisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to place it under the ombudsperson’s office as of 2021.

On December 15, parliament adopted a government-submitted amendment introducing additional gender-specific language into the constitution, declaring that “the basis for family relations is [heterosexual] marriage,” and “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.” It also declared that the country “protects children’s right to an identity based on their gender at birth” and that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from [Hungary’s] constitutional identity and Christian culture.” Parliament also adopted government-submitted legal provisions on adoption allowing only married couples consisting of a woman and a man to adopt children, unless the minister for family affairs grants special permission.

On May 19, parliament adopted an omnibus bill that included provisions replacing the term “gender” with “gender at birth” in the civil registry and prohibited gender change on all official documents, such as identification cards, passports, and driving licenses. LGBTI organizations expressed public concern that as a result transgender persons could face harsh workplace and health-care discrimination or could be accused of fraud when presenting personal identity documents. Before the adoption of the amendment, a group of 63 members of the European Parliament sent an open letter to Justice Minister Judit Varga and the chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, asking them to withdraw the proposal.

In October, Prime Minister Orban stated that a book that depicted fairy tales with minority, Romani, LGBTI, and characters with disabilities was an “act of provocation.” The leader of the Mi Hazank party tore up a copy of the book in public, and a conservative campaign group collected signatures calling for a boycott. The Hungarian Publishers and Bookseller’s Association condemned the actions, comparing them to censorship under Communism or Nazi book burning.

On August 14, during the Budapest Pride Festival, members of the “Aryan Greens”–a supporters’ group of the Ferencvaros soccer club that includes far-right extremists–tore down the pride flag flying from the Budapest 9th district city hall building and shared photos on Facebook of demonstrators stepping on the flag and burning it. Police identified and detained one suspect on suspicion of harassment. NGOs noted that authorities did not classify the act as a hate crime. Subsequently the vice president of Mi Hazank, Elod Novak, tore down pride flags from two Budapest district city hall buildings. Party president Laszlo Toroczkai stated they would continue to take action against “violent, deviant homosexual propaganda, supported by international background forces,” which he said had reached a point where the symbol of “this satanic group” appeared on the facade of local council buildings. On August 17, a small group of far-right extremists attempted to disrupt a pride festival event but backed off after police asked for their identification. A group of approximately 20 persons dressed in black shirts with the text “Hungarian resistance” appeared at another pride event on August 18, where they damaged the restrooms of Loffice Budapest, which hosted the event.

On November 17, the Budapest Capital Regional Court ruled that police had failed in their duty when they did not take immediate action against a group of far-right extremists who had disrupted an LGBTI event at Aurora Center in September 2019. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which represented the plaintiffs, welcomed the court decision for finding that the intruders’ threatening actions and verbal violence were sufficient grounds for police intervention and for providing “clear guidance” to the authorities on what actions they must take if there is an attack on the LGBTI community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to the 2011 census, 5,579 persons identified their religion as Islam. Government officials regularly made statements in defense of a “Christian Europe.” In an essay published on the occasion of the start of the fall parliamentary session, Prime Minister Orban wrote in the daily Magyar Nemzet on September 21 that, while Central European countries were choosing a migration-free future, the majority population in large Western European cities and 20 percent of the European population would be Muslim by 2050. On August 31, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen stated that the government had built or refurbished approximately 3,000 churches in the Carpathian Basin since 2010 and pledged that “none of those churches will be turned into mosques or shopping malls.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor code provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization and conduct their activities without interference, although unions alleged requirements for trade union registration were excessive. The labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard, including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. Violations of this law could result in a fine to compensate for damages in case the employer turns to court, although this labor code provision was rarely implemented and there were no reported instances during the year. With the exception of law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. In other spheres of the public sector, including education or government services, minimum service must be maintained. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Workers performing activities that authorities determine to be essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were generally commensurate with those for other violations. In the public sector, administrative and judicial procedures to determine adequate services were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Trade unions alleged that national prosecutors restricted trade union activities and in some cases reported antiunion dismissals and union busting by employers. There were also reports of unilateral termination of collective agreements, which employers in some cases attributed to financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unions reported the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.

While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, observers asserted the government failed to enforce it effectively and forced labor occurred. Penalties for forced labor were comparable to penalties for other serious crimes.

Groups vulnerable to forced labor included those in extreme poverty, undereducated young adults, Roma, and homeless men and women. Hungarian men and women were subjected to forced labor domestically and abroad, and labor trafficking of Hungarian men in Western Europe occurred in agriculture, construction, and factories. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of seasonal workers, including Hungarians, as numerous hostels and workplaces became hot spots of infections and were subsequently closed. The government implemented temporary travel restrictions, quarantine, or testing for those entering the country to control the pandemic, while also increasing law enforcement efforts and sustaining its prevention efforts.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution generally prohibits child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working, except that children who are 15 or 16 may work under certain circumstances as temporary workers during school vacations or may be employed to perform in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities with parental consent. Children may not work night shifts or overtime or perform hard physical labor. The government performed spot-checks and effectively enforced applicable laws; penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Through the end of 2018, the employment authority reported 10 cases, involving 17 children, of labor by children younger than 15. The employment authority also reported eight cases involving 11 children between the ages of 15 and 16 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives during the school year, as well as 16 cases involving 18 children between the ages of 16 and 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The employment authority noted child labor cases increased as a result of tighter legislation, which requires presentation of parental permission during an inspection.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, and persons with disabilities. According to NGOs there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 2018 the net national minimum monthly wage for full-time employment of unskilled workers and the special minimum monthly wage for skilled workers exceeded the poverty level.

The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime. On January 1, amendments to the labor code became effective that increased the limit on maximum overtime from 250 to 400 hours per year. The code also provides for 10 paid annual national holidays. Under the new code, overtime is to be calculated based on a three-year time period, i.e., employees have a right to overtime pay only if, over a three-year period, they have worked an average of more than 40 hours per week. Observers noted the provision could allow employers to avoid paying overtime for work in one year by requiring employees to work less than full time during both or one of the two other years if it lowered their average workweek over the entire three-year period to 40 hours or less. The changes to the labor code led to a series of worker demonstrations in late 2018 and early 2019, following which most employers agreed not to take advantage of the overtime calculation provision of the new labor code and to continue paying overtime in the following pay period. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed a decree allowing employers and employees not to apply the prescriptions of the labor code in contracts and work schedules. Trade unions claimed this decree was unconstitutional because it enabled employers to force disadvantageous contracts upon employees and undermined their legal protections. As trade unions have no right of appeal to the Constitutional Court, they appealed to opposition parties to request constitutional review.

The government rewrote established occupational safety and health standards to include pandemic protection measures. The government shut down several economic sectors during the pandemic, including tourism, catering, and culture. Workers continued to have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar offenses. Labor inspectors regularly provide consultations to employers and employees on safety and health standards. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits. Labor standards were not enforced in the informal economy. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal sector, and inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. According to the Labor Protection Directorate of the Finance Ministry, 24,055 injuries and 83 fatalities occurred at workplaces in 2019, a slight increase from 2018. Most of the injuries and deaths occurred in the processing, manufacturing, transport and warehousing, agricultural, and retail sectorss

Iceland

Executive Summary

Iceland is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The president is the head of state, and a prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party, is head of government. There is a unicameral parliament (Althingi). On June 27, voters reelected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election. Parliamentary elections in 2017 were also considered free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. In addition, the Icelandic Coast Guard carries out general law enforcement duties at sea. The national police, the nine regional police forces, and the Coast Guard fall under the purview of the Ministry of Justice. The country has no military. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the Coast Guard. There were no reports members of security forces committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Most public officials were not bound by law to disclose financial interests publicly, but most chose to do so. The law requires members of parliament and government ministers who are not members of parliament to report their financial interests publicly on parliament’s website and to update this information within one month of receiving new information. As of August 8, all 63 members of parliament elected in 2017 reported their financial interests online. In June parliament passed a bill mandating financial disclosures for government ministers, permanent secretaries, director generals, and ambassadors. The law enters into effect January 1, 2021. It stipulates that the disclosures for government ministers and ambassadors must be made public, while the disclosures for permanent secretaries and director generals may be kept private. There are no criminal sanctions for noncompliance under the new law, but noncompliant officials may face administrative sanctions. Although they were not legally bound to submit financial disclosures, all permanent secretaries had done so as of August 18.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliament’s ombudsman, elected by parliament for a period of four years, secures the rights of the citizens to equal and impartial treatment in their dealings with public authorities. The ombudsman is independent from any governmental authority, including parliament, when exercising his or her functions. The ombudsman is party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and conducts periodic site visits to prisons and psychiatric hospitals. While the ombudsman’s recommendations were not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Judicial Affairs and Education was responsible for legislative oversight of human rights in the country. The committee was generally considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carried a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of two to three years. The law does not explicitly address spousal rape.

The law criminalizes domestic violence specifically with a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison.

Victims of domestic violence can request police to remove perpetrators physically from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent abusers from coming into proximity with the victim, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. The law entitles survivors of sex crimes to a lawyer to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants. As of September 10, approximately 105 women and 74 children sought temporary lodging at a shelter for women in Reykjavik as did two women and one child at the newly opened Akureyri shelter, mainly due to domestic violence.

The police procedure for the handling of domestic violence states that law enforcement should report to the location of the incident. If responding officers are unable to enter the premises and have reasonable suspicion that the life of an individual inside might be threatened, they are allowed to use force to enter. If a child is present, an official from the child protective services must be called to the scene. All parties present are questioned and the case is entered into the police database. If the situation warrants, the responding officers can arrest the perpetrator and assist the survivor in seeking medical care and offer guidance on legal recourse. The victim can request a temporary restraining order be imposed on the perpetrator. In some cases officers, child protective services, or the family of the victim can request the restraining order. If officers deem the survivor to be in danger following the imposed restraining order, they will provide an emergency services call device.

The government helped finance the women’s shelters in Reykjavik and Akureyri, the Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. These organizations offered services free of charge, regardless of the victim’s citizenship. In addition, the government assisted immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.

Sexual Harassment: Two laws prohibit sexual harassment. The general penal code makes sexual harassment punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. The law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the victim, and continues despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. The law establishes fines for violations, but more severe penalties could be applicable under other laws.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive services for survivors of sexual violence, both on-site at hospitals and through government-funded NGOs.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men according to the constitution and the law. Although the government enforced the law effectively, employment discrimination occurred.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires the country’s citizenship at birth if both parents are citizens, if the mother is a citizen, or if the father is a citizen and is married to the child’s foreign mother. If a mixed-nationality couple had obtained a judicial separation at the time when the child was conceived, the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A stateless child can become a citizen at the age of three. By law, all children have access to social services regardless of citizenship. If a child is not legally domiciled in the country or is living in the country without legal guardians, a child protection committee in the municipality where the child is physically located assumes care if needed and takes measures to secure his or her best interests. Registrations of births were prompt.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The government is legally mandated to provide services for children, including a safe residence for children as well as specialized services. Under the law, the general public has a duty to notify authorities if suspicion arises of any form of child abuse. The Government Agency for Child Protection is responsible for implementation of the law. The agency operated a diagnostic and short-term treatment center for abused and troubled minors and was responsible for one short-term treatment center in Reykjavik and two centers in other locations. The government maintained a children’s assessment center to secure the well-being, to lessen the trauma experienced by children, to coordinate victim protection, and to accelerate prosecution in child sexual abuse cases. The prime minister appoints the ombudsman for children, who acts independently of the government. While the ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. There were no reports during the year of forced marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the payment, or promise of payment or consideration of another type, for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18. Violation may be punished with fines or imprisonment for up to two years. The law punishes child pornography by up to two years in prison. The law criminalizes statutory rape with incarceration for one to 16 years. The government effectively enforced these laws.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The law includes a requirement for explicit consent for sexual acts, meaning that consent is not considered to be given freely if obtained through violence or the threat of violence, any kind of force, or the use of drugs or alcohol.

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

Anti-Semitism

The resident Jewish community was estimated to be around 300 individuals. On Yom Kippur (September 27-28), members of the neo-Nazi organization the Nordic Resistance Movement hung up fliers with anti-Semitic messages on an outdoor photograph exhibition and a power utility box in the Reykjavik area. Authorities promptly removed the messages and opened a police investigation.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications. By law, persons with disabilities are free to hire their own assistance providers and tailor assistance to their needs. Disability rights advocates complained that authorities did not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contended that authorities rarely, if ever, assessed penalties for noncompliance.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

All discrimination is illegal, in both society and the labor market, including discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Immigrants, mainly of non-European origin or from Eastern Europe or the Baltic countries, and asylum seekers, suffered occasional incidents of social harassment based on their ethnicity. Law enforcement recorded five potential hate crimes during the year.

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

While the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it does so implicitly. The law prohibits anyone from denying a person goods or services on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits denying a person access to a public meeting place or other places open to the public on the same footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law further prohibits incitement to hatred against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and the dissemination of hateful material.

LGBTI activists reported generally positive conditions but continued to note the lack of explicit protections for LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, in hate crime laws.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly of non-European origin, suffered occasional incidents of harassment based on their religious beliefs (see section 7, Worker Rights).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It is silent on whether workers fired for union activity should be reinstated, but it allows for fining employers who engage in this practice. The law permits the government to pass a provisional law to impose mandatory mediation when strikes threaten key sectors in the economy.

The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties for violations (damages and fines) were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements covered nearly 100 percent of the formal economy’s workforce. Independent contractors in various industries, but mainly in construction and tourism, sometimes hired subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Law enforcement authorities and the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety effectively enforced the law. Resources were adequate during the year, although there were no prosecutions. The law is sufficiently stringent compared with those on other serious crimes, and penalties for violations were commensurate.

Some instances of forced labor occurred. Traffickers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, tourism, and restaurants. Foreign “posted workers” were at particular risk of forced labor because traffickers paid them in their home countries and contracted them to work for up to 183 days in the country under the guise of avoiding taxes and union fees, limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Foreign workers have the same rights that are afforded to local workers in collective bargaining agreements. Union officials noted that they do take legal action on the behalf of workers, regardless of whether union dues had been paid.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions for children. According to the law, children who are 13 and 14 may be employed in light work up to 12 hours per week and a maximum of two hours per day outside organized school teaching hours during the school year and up to 35 hours a week or a maximum of seven hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 who do not attend school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum of eight hours per day, but not between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. For children who remain in school, the law limits work to 12 hours per week and a maximum two hours per day during the school year, but up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children younger than 18 may not be employed in hazardous work as specified by law.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspection capacity was sufficient to enforce compliance.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and other laws prohibit employment discrimination in general and provide for fines determined by the courts for violations. The law provides for equal treatment in the labor market, without regard to race, ethnicity, age, religion, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or gender expression. The law does not specifically address HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Under the law, individuals, companies, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations can refer cases to the Gender Equality Complaints Committee, which rules on appointments and salary-related matters.

The government effectively enforced the law in most areas, but instances of employment discrimination occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. Despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women. Disability rights advocates asserted that persons with disabilities had a more difficult time finding jobs due to prejudice and because fewer job opportunities, especially part time, were available for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not establish a minimum wage. The minimum wages negotiated in various collective bargaining agreements applied automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defined the negotiated wage levels, which were higher than the poverty level.

The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime and limits the time a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. Overtime pay does not vary significantly across unions, but collective bargaining agreements determine the terms of overtime pay. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to no fewer than eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days. The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (AOSH) monitored and enforced these regulations.

The law sets occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries, and the Ministry of Welfare administered and enforced them through AOSH, which conducted both proactive and reactive inspections. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health and safety without jeopardy to their employment. AOSH can close workplaces that fail to meet safety and health standards.

The government effectively enforced the law. AOSH employed a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce standards effectively in all sectors. AOSH levied daily fines on companies that did not follow instructions, urging them to improve work conditions. Daily fines were commensurate with those for similar violations. With the exception of certain asylum seekers, the government provided universal health-care coverage to all workers, including those in the informal economy.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labor stated in its annual report for 2020 that economic growth in recent years has resulted in an influx of foreign workers who are subject to exploitation. The exploitation primarily centered on foreign workers receiving salaries below negotiated minimum wages. Although violations of occupational safety and health standards occurred in all sectors, violations occurred most frequently in the construction and food industries. Young workers and employees who did not understand or speak Icelandic and did not know local rules and regulations were more likely to be subjected to hazardous or exploitative working conditions.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered free and fair.

The National Police and Carabinieri (gendarmerie or military police) maintain internal security. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: violence or threats of violence against journalists; refoulement; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups.

The government identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On May 21, police arrested Antonino Candela, Sicily’s COVID-19 emergency coordinator and former director of the Palermo provincial health authority. He was arrested along with nine others for alleged corruption and rigging of health sector tenders for medical equipment worth 600 million euros ($720 million) in exchange for promised bribes amounting to approximately 1.8 million euros ($2.2 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament to disclose their assets and incomes. The two parliamentary chambers publish a bulletin containing parliamentarians’ information (if agreed to by each member of parliament) on their public websites. The law stipulates that the president of each chamber may order noncompliant members to submit their statements within 15 days of their request but provides for no other penalties. Ministers must disclose their information online.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination. The Interministerial Committee for Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high profile domestic cases.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes perpetrators of rape, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, and restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to victims. In one example, on April 19, a man shot and killed his partner near Milan. The two worked in different parts of northern Italy and only visited each other on weekends before the outbreak but were compelled by financial constraints to reside together during the government-mandated lockdown. The man had a history of domestic violence, with two complaints filed by his former spouse.

Between January and June, 535 women were killed by domestic partners. In April police arrested a Bangladeshi man who repeatedly raped and physically and mentally abused his wife because she refused to stop attending Italian language classes. Their minor daughter also suffered abuse and corroborated the mother’s charges.

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between March 1 and April 16, the hotline received 5,031 calls, a 73-percent increase from the same period in 2019. In an estimated 93 percent of those cases, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 64 percent of the cases, children were present.

Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected access to contraception or to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Independent observers and NGOs, however, reported access to counseling and insufficient government resources limited some reproductive health services.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. NGOs reported that in some cases authorities expelled undocumented foreign women who were victims of sexual violence, and that some public officers were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, and when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Sexual abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison. On June 23, a court in Sardinia sentenced three adults to eight years in prison for mistreatment and violence towards a child. The child had been forced to live segregated in a dark room without a bed and was repeatedly slapped and forced to take cold showers as punishment. In 2019 there were 15,044 reports of missing minors, of whom 7,109 were foreigners. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered an increase in the number of calls from abused minors. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor younger than 18. Forced marriage even for religious reasons is also penalized. In June the Italian embassy in Islamabad intervened to prevent the forced marriage of a 16-year-old girl with Italian citizenship to her underage cousin in Pakistan.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 5,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 215 in 2018 to 160 in 2019.

On July 20, the daily La Stampa reported the break-up of a “psycho-sect,” a child abuse ring led by a 77-year-old man that preyed on children for 30 years in Novara, Milan, and Pavia. The press reported 26 persons were under investigation.

There were reports of child pornography. In July, Florence prosecutors investigated the possession and distribution of images by Italian nationals that showed physical and sexual abuses against children in foreign countries. Police investigated six adults and 19 minors throughout 13 provinces in Italy. In 2019 Postal Police reported 650 persons allegedly involved in child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.

Save the Children Italy reported the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, because they were often forcibly abused in overcrowded apartments without health precautions and received reduced token “payment” from their abusers.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the partner is younger than 18 and the age gap is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 1,981 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 5,202 unaccompanied minors, of whom 95 percent were boys. It also reported 959 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation. UNICEF estimated more than 6,300 foreign unaccompanied minors were in the country at the end of 2019.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in six months’ to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia are sold online.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center reported 143 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 18, including the physical assault on a boy wearing a kippah who was punched from behind and spit on.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On August 18, the center reported 74 cases of insults on the internet and 13 cases of graffiti or vandalism against Jewish residents. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Bologna, and Turin. On January 24, Siena University suspended from teaching a law professor who tweeted anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi comments.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country. In January the government appointed a national coordinator to combat anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges. On April 29, a Rome court found the local transportation company guilty of not repairing the escalators of a subway station in May 2019 and thereby denying a man with disabilities access to trains. On June 8, a Milan resident urged the Lombardy regional minister to reopen escalators and lifts in public stations closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so that she and other persons with disabilities could access public services.

On July 8, police arrested a physiotherapist who raped and mistreated a minor with disabilities in Cosenza in 2019.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019 authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, of which 234 were incitement to violence, 147 violations of tombs, and 93 acts of physical violence.

On July 1, local authorities announced their intention to close a Romani camp in the outskirts of Rome. By September 18, only 36 families were still waiting in the camp for alternative housing. The government suspended the closure of all camps. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in an overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city. Local residents and NGOs claimed that local authorities had not offered adequate and permanent housing for most of the vulnerable families.

The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2019, 12,700 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,300, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. An estimated 55 percent of persons living in authorized camps were minors; 53 percent were foreign. Their average life expectancy was 10 years lower than the rest of the population. The European Roma Rights Commission (ERRC) reported that, in most cases, no masks, hand sanitizer, or hygienic supplies were distributed to Romani camps, even those lacking access to water. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.

The ERRC stated that between February and July, it recorded at least seven such evictions.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services and the government enforced the law effectively. NGOs advocating for the rights of LGBTI persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples. On July 2, a group of teenagers and young adults verbally and physically assaulted a gay couple in a train station in Vernazza. Police arrested one of the perpetrators. When LGBTI persons reported crimes, the government investigated but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. The penalties were commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations that occurred.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law.

The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes so-called caporalato, the recruitment of foreign agricultural workers who are illegally employed at subminimum wages and required to work long hours without premium pay or access to labor or social protections. Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities.

The government continued to focus on forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector. Government labor inspectors and labor organizations expressed concerns during the year that lockdown measures related to COVID-19 exposed caporalato migrant workers, many of whom were designated essential workers, to particular vulnerability, including employer blackmail. In May the government established a system to regularize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers exploited the regularization process by blackmailing workers who needed their employers’ signature to apply for the program. The program only applies to migrants working in the agricultural sector and as care providers. Approximately 123,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. There were 600,000 undocumented migrants estimated to be in the country.

Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south. There continued to be anecdotal evidence that limited numbers of Chinese nationals were forced to work in textile factories and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into begging. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($18) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 16. There are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Government enforcement was generally effective, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in the formal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south and in family-run agricultural businesses.

There were some reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant or Romani communities. In 2019 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 243 underage laborers, of whom 210 were working in the services sector. In March 2019 police arrested two parents whose underage son was working in a carwash in Acate in the province of Ragusa. He and his two sisters were not enrolled in school.

The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age 21 and can support themselves. According to Eurostat, 660 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 2019, compared with 3,885 in 2018. As of August 17, the Ministry of Interior registered 1,981 seaborne arrivals of unaccompanied minors, compared with 1,680 in 2019.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to becoming child laborers in agriculture, bars, shops, and construction and worked to prevent exploitation by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained voluntary guardians at the juvenile court-level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law have yet to be fully implemented across the country, although significant progress was made.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There were some media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Office against Racial Discrimination to intervene in discrimination cases, and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to other laws related to civil rights, but the number of inspections was insufficient to provide adequate implementation.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, according to labor unions. According to a 2018 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5 percent lower than those of men performing the same job.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. The penalties for wage, hour, and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.

The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Labor inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

In 2019 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 128,367 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of the labor law. In 2019 there were 1,156 workplace deaths due to industrial accidents as well as a total of 644,800 reported incidents that caused injuries to workers.

Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), a national trade union, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Unions reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions in some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered the elections in 2018 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard, the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, the State Security Service, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The State Police, State Security Service, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, Constitution Protection Bureau, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the majority of the public believed that corruption was widespread that officials were rarely held accountable, that investigation and prosecution of corruption cases were slow, and that convictions were rare.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. Investigation of corruption cases continued to improve, but prosecutions were slow, and conviction rates low. NGOs stated concerns with the quality of investigations, lack of appropriate judicial training, quality of law education, lengthy written procedures, and sluggish use of plea bargaining as the main problems in judicial sector.

In August the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) initiated criminal proceedings against a Latvian-registered legal entity for bribing a foreign official. Although KNAB did not identify the company, media reported that the legal entity involved in the case was the Latvijas Tilti construction firm. KNAB indicated that in 2016 a representative of the legal entity paid more than 10,000 euros ($12,000) in bribes to a Lithuanian official in order to secure a decision in the company’s favor.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to file income and asset disclosures annually. Declarations are made public, and there are sanctions for noncompliance. While authorities investigated some irregularities, NGOs stated that the State Revenue Service had limited capacity and thus could not effectively oversee these disclosures.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated with NGOs and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman received some cooperation from the agencies it monitored and operated without direct government or political interference. The office encountered difficulties resolving problems that required state budget funding or changes in the law, but effectively addressed complex social-economic issues in the Constitutional Court. In a March 2019 report, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) observed that the ombudsman’s mandate does not include providing independent assistance to victims of racism and racial discrimination. The ombudsman cannot enforce its recommendations or levy fines, although it may apply to the Constitutional Court to initiate proceedings against a public institution that has failed to address a source of discrimination. The ombudsman can also file a complaint in an administrative court if it is in the public interest or bring a case to the civil courts if the problem concerns a violation of equal treatment, ECRI stated. As required by law, the Office of the Ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing parliamentary committee on human rights and public affairs met weekly when parliament was in session. It considered initiatives related to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape regardless of gender. Spousal rape is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” Criminal penalties for rape range from four years to life imprisonment. When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation. Through September police initiated 56 criminal charges for rape against 28 individuals, of which two cases were sent to the prosecutor’s office. Because the Ministry of Justice does not distinguish between spousal rape and nonspousal rape cases, there were no reports available on whether any spousal rape case was prosecuted.

The law provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. Domestic violence is considered an aggravating factor in certain criminal offenses. There are penalties for causing even “minor” bodily harm when the victim and perpetrator are spouses, former spouses, or civil partners.

The law allows police to investigate domestic violence without a victim’s prior approval and criminalizes stalking. The law allows survivors of domestic violence to request police officers issue an order for eviction of the perpetrator for eight days. Upon such a request, police must react immediately, on the spot, if necessary. Only courts can issue restraining orders and must respond to such requests within one business day. Once a restraining order is issued, it remains in force until a court revokes it.

Domestic violence remained a serious problem. NGOs and State Police noted a 30 percent increase in domestic violence calls and reports during COVID-19 restrictions. NGOs stated reported violence became more severe during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Through August police initiated 193 criminal proceedings for domestic violence and detained 50 persons. In the same period, police issued 320 restraining orders, a number far below 2019 figures. NGOs stated that in some domestic violence cases, police and doctors were reluctant to act to restrain or arrest domestic partners. NGOs also stated police and doctors sometimes minimized the seriousness of the accusations when responding to reports of abuse. Domestic abuse complaints to police resulted in a slight rise in the rate of citations, although NGOs still viewed this as insufficient.

Following the success of a pilot project in the city of Liepaja that resulted in a strong increase in separation order issuances, amendments to Cabinet of Ministers regulations now require police throughout the country to use standardized protocols to report and investigate domestic and gender-based violence. Responding police officers are required to complete and send electronically an evaluation checklist to the social service of the relevant local government within one working day.

No anonymous government-run shelters designated specifically for battered and abused women existed. The government provided state funding to shelters. There was one government-funded survivor support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; neither was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault. The government hotline referred survivors to an appropriate NGO for further support.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was prosecuted under discrimination statutes. Penalties range from a reprimand to imprisonment. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. During the year there were no complaints of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognizes the right of most couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; to have access to the full range of contraceptive choices; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Transgendered persons are the exception and are required to be sterilized before their gender identity is legally recognized. The country’s cultural norms and concerns about potential violations of “virtue” laws limited consistent education in schools on sexual and reproductive health. Under the law schools are obliged to provide students with a “moral education” that reinforces traditional (heterosexual) values regarding marriage and family life. As a result, many teachers avoided educating adolescents about reproductive health and contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women. The government enforced its antidiscrimination laws effectively. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. Only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. Since January 1, the law bestows automatic birthright citizenship to children of noncitizen residents, replacing a system that required permission from at least one of the parents for such a child to acquire citizenship. Children with noncitizen resident status are eligible for citizenship via naturalization.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. The law provides for protection of children against violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, involvement in prostitution, and serious threats to the life, health, or development, such as hazardous conditions. Violation of the law is punishable by imprisonment, community service, or a fine and supervised probation for a period of up to three years. The law empowers custody courts to remove vulnerable and abused children from violent homes if parents or guardians cannot do so or are themselves perpetrators of the violence. Police effectively enforced laws against child abuse.

The ombudsman received six complaints of violence against children in educational institutions and two complaints of violence against children in families. NGOs also reported a continuing overall problem with discipline and bullying in schools, citing an administrative culture of conflict avoidance as an aggravating factor. Police started an inquiry to verify reports by the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights of abuse claims at the Mountain Blessings Community, a religious group in Brukna focusing on addiction rehabilitation.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons younger than 18 may legally marry only with parental permission and if one party is at least 16 and the other is at least 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. Through September police initiated 92 criminal proceedings for the sexual exploitation of minors younger than 16, a 12 percent drop from 2018. The purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights reported three cases of peer-on-peer physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in orphanages run by municipalities and boarding schools for children with special needs. The inspectorate and NGOs stated the number of incidents was likely higher but could not be confirmed because of difficulties in accountability, infrequent visits by social workers, and limited opportunities for observation.

Due to its complexity and sensitivity, the criminal investigation of serious abuses at the Ainazi children’s psychiatric clinic, initiated in 2018, remained under review by authorities. Among other abuses children at the clinic were found to have been bound to beds for prolonged periods of time.

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

Anti-Semitism

Government sources estimated that between 4,400 and 8,100 Jewish residents live in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups. The leadership of the Jewish community stated that relations with the government were generally positive. The government provided financial support to Jewish history, religious, and cultural institutions.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, most of the annual commemoration of Latvian Legionnaires who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet army in World War II was canceled. Organizers converted the annual memorial march into an all-day wreath-laying event. As in recent years, turnout continued to decline, and the event received less attention, but at least one parliamentarian from the right-wing National Alliance party attended. Organizers aired a short film on television portraying the Legionnaires’ actions as defending Latvia and making no mention of Nazis.

On July 4, President Egils Levits, Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga. The ceremony included a limited number of invitees and was closed to the public due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

Although the law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, there was no corresponding provision for private buildings. NGOs stated that building accessibility continued to be low. Accessibility to state and local government buildings generally extended only to the first floor. NGOs cited low understanding of accessibility requirements among architects and a weak enforcement mechanism, as well as legal constraints that increase the price to modify building designs for accessibility.

In Riga schools were generally able to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities. Few schools outside of Riga could do so.

While health and labor services are provided as stipulated by law, NGOs stated that most persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, the absence of specialized job education and training programs, and reduced government support for businesses employing disabled persons.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

NGOs representing minority groups stated that discrimination and harassment of national minorities, including what they considered hate speech, remained underreported to authorities. Through September the ombudsman did not receive any written complaints of racial discrimination, although he did receive six complaints of ethnic discrimination. ECRI in 2019 heard from NGOs, minority representatives, and the ombudsman that victims of hate speech often did not report incidents to police because they distrusted the willingness and ability of police to investigate these cases effectively.

Through August the State Security Service initiated three criminal cases for incitement of social hatred and enmity.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination, high levels of unemployment, and illiteracy. The government continued integration and awareness programs in support of the Roma, though some community members expressed concern that the support was inconsistent. The Central Statistical Bureau reported that 4,891 Roma lived in the country.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs expressed concern about the lack of explicit protection in the law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. NGOs stated that cases tended to be underreported, and that they observed a rise in online comments against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community during the COVID-19 lockdown period. ECRI also noted in 2019 that the government does not collect data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and thus is not in a position to evaluate the need for specialized services or the magnitude of the problem. Through August the ombudsman received one complaint regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

NGOs reported widespread stigmatization of, intolerance of, and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military and members of the State Security Services may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance, since all employment conditions are fixed by law.

While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a simple majority at a meeting attended by more than half of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also apply. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other civil rights laws, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand euros, but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces, and reported no incidents of forced labor through September. Two cases of complaints about workers’ rights were forwarded to the State Police to evaluate whether forced labor took place. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 14 percent of positions unfilled, a situation made worse by perennial wage issues.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. By law children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate did not report cases of unregistered employment of youth.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights. Despite the existence of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government requires the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.

According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the country have equal legal standing with men. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector, but they were underreported to the ombudsman. Through August the ombudsman did not open any cases of discrimination against women.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work, although were free to work in all labor markets and were able to receive government employment support services, including those specifically designed for persons with disabilities. In 2019, 27.2 percent of all persons with disabilities were employed, a slight increase from 2018. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets a monthly minimum wage which was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers are able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are fines that vary widely depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems, effectively enforce labor laws, and occupational safety and health standards. The inspectorate has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 22 workplace fatalities, eight of which will likely be categorized as due to natural causes. The inspectorate also reported 114 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that 54 injuries and four deaths occurred as a result of industrial accidents. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for 24 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters and police, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Lithuania is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority resides in a unicameral parliament (Seimas), and executive authority resides in the Office of the President. Observers evaluated the presidential elections and European Parliamentary elections in May 2019 and the national parliamentary elections on October 11 and October 25 as generally free and fair.

Police and the State Border Guard Service are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The Special Investigative Service, the main anticorruption agency, reports to the president and parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, the State Border Guards Service, the army, and the Special Investigative Service. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Government officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and corruption was a problem.

Corruption: On June 2, authorities arrested Valdas Sutkus, president of the Lithuanian Business Confederation; Mantas Zalatorius, president of the Association of Lithuanian Banks; and four other persons after obtaining information on their alleged large-scale active and passive bribery, trading in influence, squandering of property, and forgery of documents. In 2019 the Special Investigative Service started 47 pretrial investigations of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets and incomes annually. The declarations were available to the public. Administrative sanctions were imposed for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has three mandates: to investigate complaints about abuse of office or other violations of human rights involving public administration; to implement the national prevention of torture mechanism under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and to serve as an accredited national human rights institution. In the last capacity, the parliamentary ombudsman is responsible for reporting on and monitoring human rights problems, cooperating with international and domestic human rights organizations, and promoting human rights awareness and education.

The equal opportunities ombudsman operates an independent public institution with responsibility for implementing and enforcing rights under the law.

A children’s rights ombudsman is responsible for overseeing observance of children’s rights and their legal interests. It may initiate investigations of possible violations of such rights, either upon receipt of a complaint or on its own initiative.

Parliament’s human rights committee prepares and reviews draft laws and other legal acts related to civil rights and presents recommendations to government institutions and other organizations about problems related to the protection of civil rights. It also receives reports from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence are criminal offenses. Penalties for domestic violence depend on the level of injury to the victim, ranging from required public service to life imprisonment. In the first eight months of the year, authorities received 63 reports of rape, compared with 77 during the same period in 2019. Convicted rapists generally received prison sentences of three to five years. No law specifically criminalizes spousal rape, and no data on spousal rape was available.

The law permits rapid government action in domestic violence cases. For example, police and other law enforcement officials may, with court approval, require perpetrators to live separately from their victims, to avoid all contact with them, and to surrender any weapons they may possess. According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, eight out of 10 victims of domestic violence were women, and the law still does not follow a gender-sensitive approach.

Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem. In the first eight months of the year, police received 35,130 domestic violence calls and started 7,006 pretrial investigations, 17 of which were for killings. In 2018 approximately 80 percent of all domestic violence reports were against women.

There are a 24/7 national hotline and 29 crisis centers for victims of domestic violence. The Ministry of Justice also continued its Action Plan for Domestic Violence Prevention and Assistance to Victims for 2017-2020 and allocated 1.17 million euros ($1.4 million) for the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to access the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Despite there being no barriers for access to contraception, there was a lack of publicly available information about contraception as a method of family planning, and teenage pregnancies were common. Other family-planning methods were more widespread.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The country had no rape crisis center, but a network of specialized NGOs provided social, psychological, health, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. A national women’s helpline also assisted survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: The law prohibits coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization. In July the Kaunas Regional Court awarded 31,000 euros ($37,200) to a woman with cerebral palsy after a hospital in Lazdijai sterilized her involuntarily shortly after she gave birth.

Discrimination: Men and women have the same legal status and rights. Women continued to experience unequal access to pension benefits and the gender wage gap remained significant, leaving women more exposed to poverty risk (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship can be acquired either by birth in the country or through one’s parents. The government registered all births promptly.

Child Abuse: The law bans all violence against children. Sexual abuse of children remained a problem despite prison sentences of up to 13 years for the crime. In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of the Interior recorded 23 cases of child rape and 171 cases involving other forms of child sexual abuse. The government operated a children’s support center to provide medical and psychological care for children, including those who suffered from various types of violence. It also operated a national center in Vilnius to provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance to sexually abused children and their families.

According to the Ministry of Social Security and Labor Affairs, there were 5,469 reports of violence against children in 2019. In the first eight months of the year, the children’s rights ombudsman reported receiving 392 complaints.

During the first eight months of the year, Child Line (a hotline for children and youth) received 105,415 telephone calls from children, and was able to respond to 77,944 of those calls. Child Line also received and answered 385 letters from children, whose concerns ranged from relations with their parents and friends to family violence and sexual abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Individuals involving a child in pornographic events or using a child in the production of pornographic material are subject to imprisonment for up to five years (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press). Persons who offer to purchase, acquire, sell, transport, or hold a child in captivity are subject to imprisonment for three to 12 years. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights reported receiving one complaint of alleged sexual exploitation of children during the first eight months of the year. According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first eight months of the year, officials opened 32 criminal cases involving child pornography. The age of consent is 16.

Institutionalized Children: As of September 1, the children’s rights ombudsman received four complaints and started one investigation regarding violations of children’s rights in orphanages and large-family foster homes.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 4,000 persons. There were reports of anti-Semitism on the internet and in public.

On January 13, an unidentified man inside the parliament building approached the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, addressed her as “little Jew girl,” and said that there was no home for her in Lithuania. In response to a request by the chair, the prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the incident. No charges were filed.

On February 16 and March 11, nationalist parties sought to rally supporters at marches commemorating the country’s independence. During the February event, approximately 1,000 persons marched through Vilnius chanting and carrying banners with images of Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet resistance fighter who collaborated with the Nazis and played a role in the atrocities in the country during the Holocaust. On March 11, a similar procession of approximately 200 persons took place.

On October 8, the government-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania posted on its Facebook page a statement commemorating the 110th birthday of Noreika. It celebrated Noreika as having opposed the Soviet and Nazi occupations. It did not refer to Noreika’s collaboration with the Nazis or his participation in Nazi atrocities. Nor did it acknowledge his public writings, which included a pamphlet promoting anti-Semitic views.

On May 20, Member of Parliament Audrys Simas made a hand gesture during a committee meeting that resembled a Nazi salute. The incident prompted the Lithuanian Jewish Community to call for an investigation. The parliamentary ethics and procedures committee investigated the matter and concluded that Simas violated the state code of behavior for politicians. Simas apologized for his actions and claimed he had raised his hand in order to cast a vote and had not intended his hand gesture as a Nazi salute.

On June 26, the anniversary of a massacre of Lithuanian Jews during the Holocaust, a monument in central Vilnius of a Jewish historical figure, Dr. Zemach Shabad, was vandalized with white paint or acid. A bust of Elijahu ben Solomon Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, was vandalized with white paint or acid on June 26 and again on August 3. Police launched pretrial investigations. The foreign minister and the mayor of Vilnius condemned the acts.

Police had instructions to take pre-emptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no proactive enforcement of these requirements. The equal opportunities ombudsman investigated cases of alleged discrimination based on disability. In 2019 the National Audit Office reported that one-third of persons with disabilities were at risk of poverty, a rate 10.7 percent higher than the overall at-risk-of-poverty rate (20.6 percent). The audit found that only 13 percent of the persons identified as needing assistance received special services in municipalities. In 32 municipalities local governments did not ensure that at least 30 percent of public buildings providing social, educational, health, and cultural services were adapted to persons with disabilities. In 34 municipalities no means of public transport were available for persons with disabilities. In 2019 only 3.4 percent of municipal websites were adapted for persons with disabilities.

The law requires all schools that provide compulsory and universally accessible education to make available education to students with disabilities. The country has a tradition of separate schools for children with various disabilities. On June 30, parliament amended the Law on Education to eliminate discriminatory provisions regarding children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational supports. According to the new provisions, which were scheduled to be implemented gradually and fully enter into force on September 1, 2024, children with disabilities who need accommodation or educational supports will be able to attend a general education school in their place of residence, and schools will no longer be able to refuse to admit them and refer them to separate so-called “special schools.”

The law prohibits persons with disabilities who have been deprived of their legal capacity from voting or standing for election. The Central Electoral Commission reported that 67 percent of voting stations were accessible for persons with disabilities in 2019.

On September 9, representatives of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office reported that during an inspection they discovered a person being held behind bars in the Skemai social care home. Police started a pretrial investigation, and the director of the institution temporarily was removed from office. According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the transfer of individuals with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities from state institutions to community-based homes was stalled.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sexual orientation can be an aggravating factor in crimes against LGBTI persons. Gender identity remains unrecognized in the law. Societal attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained largely negative, and LGBTI persons experienced stigma, discrimination, and violence. In 2019 the Baltijos Tyrimai poll noted that one-third of Lithuanians viewed LGBTI individuals as undesirable neighbors. Transgender persons were vulnerable and regularly experienced extreme violence and death threats, and legal barriers and discriminatory practices often inhibited them from receiving health care. Most LGBTI persons did not report sexual assault because they did not trust police.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

NGO experts noted that individuals with HIV/AIDS continued to be subject to discrimination, including in employment, and treated with fear and aversion. The government did not respond.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits employer discrimination against union organizers and members and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. These provisions also apply to migrant workers.

There were some specific legal limits to these rights. The law bans sympathy strikes. It also prohibits law enforcement officials, first-aid medical workers, and other security-related personnel from collective bargaining and striking, although they may join unions. The law does not afford workers in essential services, whose right to strike is restricted or prohibited, alternative procedures for impartial and rapid settlement of their claims or a voice in developing such procedures.

Labor-management disputes are settled by a labor arbitration board formed under the jurisdiction of the district court where the registered office of the enterprise or entity involved in the collective dispute is located. Despite the fact that the law establishes the binding character of the decision upon the parties, the decisions cannot lay down rights or obligations of individuals and are not enforceable by the courts. Labor-code procedures make it difficult for some workers to exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits sympathy strikes and allows an employer to hire replacement workers in certain sectors to provide for minimum services during strikes.

The government generally respected freedom of association but did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties are not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the judicial system was slow to respond to cases of unfair dismissal, and no employer faced penal sanctions for antiunion discrimination as envisaged in the law. No courts or judges specialized in labor disputes.

Employers did not always respect collective bargaining rights, and managers often determined wages without regard to union preferences, except in large factories with well organized unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were instances of forced labor, most of which involved Lithuanian men subjected to forced labor abroad. Foreign workers from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were at risk of labor trafficking as long-haul truck drivers, builders, ship hull assemblers, and welders.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light work with the written consent of the child’s parents or guardians and school. The government has not created a list of jobs considered “light work.” The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals. Under the law children younger than age 18 may not perform hazardous work. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than age 18. The government effectively enforced the law; however, penalties are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified 16 cases in which children were working illegally in the construction, agriculture, retail, services, and manufacturing sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination but does not specifically address HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, or gender identity. The law obliges the employer to implement the principles of gender equality and nondiscrimination, which prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, and psychological and sexual harassment. The employer must apply the same selection criteria and conditions when hiring new employees; provide equal working conditions, opportunities for professional development, and benefits; apply equal and uniform criteria for dismissal; pay equal wages for the same work and for work of equal value; and take measures to prevent psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties are commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The law stipulates that discrimination based on sex should also cover discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). The matter of female poverty among the elderly who do not receive equal government social remuneration, as well as a pay gap between men and women, continued to exist.

The equal opportunity ombudsman (EOO) monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 1, the EOO received 14 complaints. To address the gender equality problem, the EOO in cooperation with the municipalities and NGOs continued implementing projects aimed at strengthening local communities in the fight against gender-based violence and addressing gender equality problems. Under the law the age requirements for women and men to retire with full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

NGOs reported that workers in the Romani, LGBTI, and HIV-positive communities faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6). Non-Lithuanian speakers and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and workplace access.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the National Department of Statistics, as of January 1, the minimum monthly wage increased by 9 percent and was above the poverty line.

The law limits annual maximum overtime hours to 180 hours, and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project work, job-sharing, employee-sharing, and seasonal work. The occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law applies to both national and foreign workers. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH laws are commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The government enforced standards effectively across all sectors including the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the economy. The State Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate conducted 2,119 inspections at companies and other institutions. Of these cases, 80 percent were related to underpayment of wages, late payment of wages, or worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation can appeal to the court system. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to conduct seminars for managers of companies, local communities, and persons looking for work. The seminars dealt with preventing and combating illegal employment, the administration of labor contracts, and worker’s rights.

According to the State Labor Inspectorate, violations of wage, overtime, and OSH laws occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints about hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors. As of October 1, the State Labor Inspectorate recorded 2,533 accidents at work, including 22 fatal accidents, compared with 2,527 and 25, respectively, in 2019. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Workers have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions. Health-care workers were overloaded and at the greatest risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Norway

Executive Summary

Norway is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The government consists of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a 169-seat parliament (Storting), which is elected every four years and may not be dissolved. The monarch generally appoints the leader of the majority party or majority coalition as prime minister with the approval of parliament. Observers considered the multiparty parliamentary elections in 2017 to be free and fair.

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security. Police may call on the armed forces for assistance in crises. In such circumstances the armed forces operate under police authority. The National Police Directorate, an entity of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security , oversees the police force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces did not commit any abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens, including public officials, must be made public each year. Failure to declare properly may result in up to two years in prison. Each year ministers and members of parliament must declare their income, assets, liabilities, outside employment, and holdings in public companies. Ministers may face fines for noncompliance, but the law does not provide formal sanctions for members of parliament. Disclosures made by ministers and members of parliament are publicly available on the parliamentary website within 20 days of disclosure. Civil servants face fines if they fail to disclose any conflict of interest during decision-making processes. Ministers, members of parliament, and civil servants must disclose any employment obtained within a year after leaving public service.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has ombudsmen for public administration (the parliamentary ombudsman), children, equality and discrimination (the equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman, or LDO), and health-care patients. Parliament appoints the parliamentary ombudsman, while the government appoints the others. All ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The parliamentary ombudsman and the LDO hear complaints against actions by government officials.

Although the ombudsmen’s recommendations are not legally binding, authorities usually complied with them.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs reviews the reports of the parliamentary ombudsman, while the Standing Committee on Justice and Public Security is responsible for matters relating to the judicial system, police, and the penal, civil, and criminal codes.

The National Human Rights Institution (NIM) is an independent body funded by the parliament. NIM submits an annual report to parliament on human rights in the country. By advising the government, disseminating public information, promoting education and research on human rights, and facilitating cooperation with relevant public bodies, it makes recommendations to help ensure that the country’s international human rights obligations are fulfilled.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law. The penalty for rape is up to 21 years in prison, depending on the severity of the assault, the age of the victim, and the circumstances in which the crime occurred. Most cases resulted in sentences of three years and four months in prison. The Military Police’s annual survey released in May showed an increase in gender-related and sexual offenses in the armed forces from 30 in 2018 to 57 in 2019.

The law provides penalties of up to six years in prison for domestic violence and up to 21 years for aggravated rape. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was a problem. A government white paper on the police noted that the number of sexual offenses increased dramatically from 2003 to 2018 with a trend towards internet-based offenses. The government generally enforced the law, although the foundation Oslo Crisis Center continued to criticize the conviction rate (approximately 10 percent) as too low.

The government had programs to prevent rape and domestic violence, and offices within the police districts offered counseling and support to victims. All police districts had a domestic violence coordinator. The government continued to implement its three-year Action Plan against Rape that focuses on prevention, improvements of care and services to victims, and improvements to the judicial system. The National Police Directorate oversees the implementation of the national action plan and submits annual reports on the trends in the prosecution of rapes and sexual violence.

Public and private organizations operated 47 government-funded shelters and managed five 24-hour crisis hotlines. Victims of domestic violence have a right to consult a lawyer free of charge before deciding whether to make a formal complaint. If the government initiates criminal proceedings, the victim is entitled to free assistance from a victim’s advocate. Victims may also qualify for a one-time payment from a government-sponsored fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides that “employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other unseemly behavior,” and the government effectively enforced this provision. The law applies to employers with as few as 20 employees and requires companies to incorporate the activity and reporting obligations into the boards of public limited companies. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines or prison sentences of up to two years, depending on the seriousness of the offense. The Discrimination Tribunal has the authority to enforce sexual harassment cases more in line with other cases of discrimination and harassment and puts an onus on public authorities to work actively for gender equality and prevention of harassment, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence. The costs and resources needed to bring such cases to court have been barriers to victims seeking redress in all but the most egregious cases.

The government and the armed forces implemented measures to counter sexual harassment in the military after a 2018 survey highlighted unwanted sexual behavior. The attorney general worked with the armed forces to develop better guidelines for prosecuting cases of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. All individuals had access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Under the law public and private authorities must advance gender equality in all areas of society. The law mandates that 40 percent of the members of boards of directors of publicly listed companies be women, requires companies to incorporate the activity and reporting obligations into the boards of public limited companies, and applies to employers with as few as 20 employees to be women. Companies largely complied with the law.

Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in terms of gaining employment as well as discrimination in the workplace itself (see section 7.d.). As of September the Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman received 169 complaints of gender discrimination as well as 137 complaints related to parental leave. The Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman noticed a downward trend in reported discrimination cases, which was believed to be related to the COVD-19 pandemic.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents; children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. All birth clinics in the country reported births to a central birth register and provided the parents with a birth certificate. The birth certificate does not confer citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse, and the government generally enforced the law. In 2019 the Department of Children, Youth, and Family Affairs initiated 46,864 investigations of alleged child abuse and completed 46,946 investigations. By the end of 2019, the government’s Child Welfare Services assisted 54,592 children, of whom 44,821 received in-home assistance, while 9,771 were removed from their family home.

In June parliament instituted a nationwide children’s welfare mediation process, which the Department of Children, Youth, and Family Affairs had piloted in five counties since 2016. The mediation process brings the parties together under the authority of county social welfare boards that are involved in a judiciary capacity, but in a far less formal setting than a courtroom. The parties speak directly rather than through lawyers (although they may have lawyers present) and participate on a voluntary basis with the goal of avoiding lengthy court cases.

During the four-year mediation process pilot, two-thirds of cases were either withdrawn or resulted in an agreement between parents and the child welfare service. Only one-third of cases required continued court hearings.

As of August the ECHR ruled that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights in seven child-welfare cases and acquitted it in two. The ECHR had on hold 31 open cases against the Child Welfare Services pending the results of the government’s appeal of two of the seven judgments against it. In May the ECHR accepted the government’s treatment plan after refusing an earlier plan in a 2018 case involving a Romani child.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both women and men.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than 18 is illegal, both in the country and abroad when committed by a citizen of the country. In both cases the punishment is either a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years. Child pornography is also illegal and punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years. The government generally enforced the law. In 2019 there was a 22-percent decrease in the number of reported cases from 2018. A judge set a November trail date for a male employee at a school in Oslo accused of taking around 100 photos of boys in the shower at the swimming pool and cyber bullying a boy between 2017 and 2019. According to the indictment, police found 10,600 unique media files that sexualize children on his computer. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

At least 1,500 Jews lived in the country, 809 of whom belonged to Jewish congregations. The government does not keep statistics that require citizens to report their religion.

Jewish community leaders reported the public and government generally supported the community although they acknowledged incidents of anti-Semitism. In July the director of public prosecutions declined to bring a case to the Supreme Court after a court of appeals in March acquitted three men of hate speech charges arising from a 2018 incident when they raised a Nazi flag outside the site of a World War II Gestapo headquarters. Antiterror police arrested and deported a man who lived in the country since 1991 for alleged links to a Palestinian group that carried out the 1982 attack on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant in the Parisian Jewish Quarter in 1983, which killed six and injured 20 persons.

Three members of the Nordic Resistance Movement handed out hate propaganda outside an Oslo synagogue on Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish calendar. A leader in the synagogue said anti-Semitism was being downplayed.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the University of Oslo, the Institute for Social Research, and the Jewish community, hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities and religious groups continued to be a problem. The government continued to implement measures from its Action Plan against Anti-Semitism 2016-2020 and provided 16 million kronor ($1.7 million) in funding through the year’s budget. The action plan provided programmatic support and coordination towards integrating anti-Semitism education into all schools, supporting Jewish museums and cultural institutions, funding research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life, and public advocacy programs to combat anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the government effectively enforced and implemented these provisions. The law mandates access to public buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. All children up to the age of 15 have the right to attend the school closest to their home. The government provides a right to education supports upon the completion of a needs assessment. Two out of three children with disabilities who need additional educational supports receive additional instruction outside their classroom.

According to the Office of the Equality and Antidiscrimination Ombudsman, as of September it received 207 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

During the year the government released a strategy to ensure equality for persons with disabilities. The 10-year strategy aims to reduce discrimination and increase access and opportunities to housing, transportation, employment and health care as well as participation in cultural and social activities.

Indigenous People

There is no official registry of Sami in the country. As of 2018 government statistics showed that 55,544 persons lived in the areas defined as “Sami,” in the northern part of the country. In addition to participating freely in the national political process, the Sami elect their own parliament, the Samediggi, which exercises certain administrative and financial powers according to the law. In 2017, a total of 16,958 registered for the Sami parliamentary elections. Members of the Sami parliament also represent their constituents in international fora and organizations such as the Arctic Council and the United Nations. Elections for the Sami parliament follow the national election schedule and last took place in 2017.

The constitution provides a right for the Sami to safeguard and develop their language, culture, and community. NGOs and Sami officials continued to express concern over Sami children’s lack of access to Sami language education due to a lack of qualified teachers. This year’s annual government report on the Sami language, culture, and community announced the government’s plans to work with the Sami parliament and technology companies to make the Sami language more easily accessible.

The Sami remained concerned about high levels of domestic violence within Sami communities and a lack of cultural understanding and training by police and social welfare services which has rendered many domestic violence prevention, treatment, and criminal justice programs ineffective. They continued to express concern about damage to their traditional reindeer grazing areas and migratory routes by land development and extractive industries. They also objected to what they considered to be inadequate consultation by the government regarding restrictions on the maximum size of their herds.

The Sami have a right under the law to consultation on the use of a large land area. Under the law three of the six members of the council to determine the proper usage of the land must be Sami. As the government moved to develop greater wind-power capabilities, the Sami raised concerns about the use of their land. Reindeer avoid the wind turbines, which leads to limited grazing areas and increased density in remaining areas. The government stated it takes the reindeer industry and the Sami parliament into account when considering proposals for new wind projects.

The Sami Council, with delegates from nine member organizations in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia, held a hearing in February on a possible new railway to the Arctic Ocean via Oulu and Rovaniemi in Finland to Kirkenes. During the hearing Sami reindeer herders from Finland and Norway said they would veto such a railway project. Aili Keskitalo, President of the Norwegian Sami Parliament, pointed to areas in north Sweden and Norway where trains kill hundreds of reindeer annually.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, citizenship law, and access to government services such as health care. While violence motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards transgender persons is not considered a hate crime, crimes based on discriminatory attitudes towards sexual orientation can be treated as aggravating circumstances.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the University of Oslo, the Institute for Social Research, and the Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, hate speech on the internet against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and intersex persons continued to be a problem.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In 2019 the number of hate crimes rose to 278 from 175 in 2016. Hate crimes targeting Muslims rose from 19 to 46 during the same period, and during 2018 and 2019 religious hate crimes were only directed at Muslims, according to police. Media and the Norwegian Center against Racism reported continued anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in society. During the summer SIAN held multiple protests that were faced by larger groups of counterdemonstrators. The Center against Racism, other NGOs, and politicians urged individuals not to give SIAN the attention it was seeking.

On June 11, Philip Manshaus was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the attempted terrorist attack on the al-Noor Islamic Cultural Center outside of Oslo and the murder of his stepsister in August 2019. The sentence is the maximum permitted under the law and the strictest ever to be given.

According to NGOs and research institutes, including the University of Oslo, the Institute for Social Research, and the Center against Racism, hate speech on the internet against religious groups continued to be a problem.

On September 23, the government launched its Action Plan against Discrimination of and Hate against Muslims. The four-year plan responds to recent studies showing an increase in negative attitudes towards Muslims in the country, the terrorist attack against the al-Noor Islamic Center, and the increasing threat from right-wing extremists as assessed by the Police Security Service in its annual threat assessment. The plan contains 18 measures focusing on research and education, dialogue across religious communities and police initiatives such as registration of hate crimes towards Muslims as a separate category in the crime statistics.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including migrant workers (those who have a work permit in the country), to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The right to strike excludes members of the military and senior civil servants. With the approval of parliament, the government may compel arbitration in any industrial sector if it determines that a strike threatens public safety. Trade unions criticized the government for intervening too quickly in labor disputes.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. The penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The Global Rights Index compiled by the International Trade Union Confederation noted a sporadic violation of workers’ rights in the country. In one instance, after a collective agreement ended a 35-day strike of Norse Production workers in 2017, the owners bankrupted the company, established a new subcontractor at the same location with the same management, and did not rehire any of the unionized workers, nor did the company renew the collective agreement. A 2019 court decision found that the company clearly violated the workers’ rights and ordered the company to pay 19.5 million kronor (two million dollars) in financial loss and redress to the 45 plaintiff workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced laws against it. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. A maximum sentence of up to six years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims were commensurate with analogous crimes. In 2019 police received 62 reports of violations of the labor law, 10 violations of other related laws, and no reports of forced labor from the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority (NLIA).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may be employed up to 12 hours per week in light work that does not adversely affect their health, development, or schooling. Examples of light work include assistant work in offices or stores. Children younger than 15 need parental permission to work, and those older than 15 can work as part of vocational training, as long as they are supervised. Between the ages of 15 and 18, children not in school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day. The law limits work by children who remain in school to only those hours “not affecting schooling” without specific limits, but less than 40 hours per week. Child welfare laws explicitly protect children from exploitive labor practices. The government effectively enforced these laws, and both civil and criminal penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

While employers generally observed minimum age rules, there were reports that children were trafficked for forced labor (see section 7.b.). Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity, particularly drug smuggling and theft. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. There were also reports of children forced to work as unpaid domestic help.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced the law and invoked penalties when violations were discovered. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and ethnicity. The law provides that women and men engaged in the same activity shall receive equal wages for work of equal value. In 2019 women earned on average 12 percent less than men on a monthly basis, according to the Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs, which also reported that 36 percent of women and 15 percent of men worked part time in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available.

Equally qualified immigrants sometimes had more difficulty finding employment than nonimmigrants. As of August the unemployment rate among immigrants was 13.7 percent, compared with 4.9 percent among nonimmigrants, according to Statistics Norway. African immigrants had the highest unemployment rate at 18.1 percent, followed by Asians at 15.4 percent, immigrants from eastern EU countries at 14.6 percent, and South and Central Americans at 14.1 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not mandate an official minimum wage. Instead, minimum wages were set in collective bargaining agreements. Statistics Norway used 60 percent of the median household income after tax for the relative poverty limit. In 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, 11.2 percent of the population had an income below the poverty limit.

The law provides for premium pay of 40 percent of salary for overtime and prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of 10 hours per week. The government effectively enforced the laws and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The law provides the same benefits for citizens and foreign workers with residency permits but forbids the employment of foreign workers who do not have residency permits. The law provides for safe and physically acceptable working conditions for all employed persons. The NLIA, in consultation with nongovernment experts, sets occupational safety and health standards. These standards are appropriate across all sectors of the industry in the country. The law requires enterprises with 50 or more workers to establish environment committees composed of management, workers, and health-care personnel. Enterprises with 10 or more workers must have safety delegates elected by their employees. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment; authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The NLIA effectively enforced laws and standards regarding acceptable work conditions in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. The NLIA may close an enterprise immediately if the life or health of employees is in imminent danger and may report enterprises to police for serious breaches of the law. A serious violation may result in fines or, in the worst case, imprisonment. The penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy, led by a president. The country held extraordinary elections for seats in the unicameral National Assembly (parliament) on June 21 and presidential elections in 2017. International observers stated the country efficiently organized the June 21 elections in difficult circumstances, but the dominance of the ruling party, the opposition parties’ lack of access to the media, and the lack of media diversity overall limited voters’ choice. A coalition led by President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party won an overwhelming majority with more than 60 percent of the vote. The Republic Electoral Commission ruled that elections had to be rerun in 234 of 8,253 municipalities–an unusually high number–due to calculation errors in the voting and other confirmed irregularities. In 2017 Vucic, leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, was elected president, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote in the first round. International observers stated that the 2017 presidential election was mostly free but that campaigning ahead of these elections was tilted to benefit the ruling party.

The national police maintain internal security and are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; numerous acts of government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses. Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, attacks on civil society, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. There was a widespread public perception that the law was not being implemented consistently and systematically and that some high-level officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government reported an increase in prosecution of low- to mid-level corruption cases, money laundering, and economic crimes cases, largely through the use of authorities permitted under the law and based on technical assistance and training provided by international donors. Even so, corruption was prevalent in many areas and remained a problem of concern.

The Freedom House annual report for the year described the country as a “hybrid regime” rather than a democracy due to reported corruption among senior officials that had gone unaddressed in recent years. While the legal framework for fighting corruption was broadly in place, anticorruption entities typically lacked adequate personnel and were not integrated with other judicial entities, which inhibited information and evidence sharing with the prosecution service. Freedom House’s 2019 report on the country noted the work of the Anticorruption Agency (ACA) was undermined in part by the ambiguous division of responsibilities among other entities tasked with combating corruption. Freedom House downgraded the country’s political pluralism and participation score in part based on the credible reports that the ACA did not thoroughly investigate dubious political campaign contributions, including the use of thousands of proxy donors to bypass legal limits on individual campaign donations and disguise the true source of funding. The GRECO 2019 Annual Report found that the country had not fully implemented anticorruption measures related to the recruitment and rules of conduct governing members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors.

EU experts noted continuing problems with the overuse of the vague “abuse of office” charge for alleged private-sector corruption schemes. Despite the government’s publicly stated commitment to fight corruption, both the country’s Anticorruption Council and the NGO Transparency Serbia continued to point to a lack of governmental transparency.

Corruption: There were numerous cases of corruption during the year. Between March 2018 and March 2020, the Specialized Prosecutorial Anticorruption Department reported 344 corruption-related convictions through trial and 783 convictions based on plea agreements. In the first six months of the year, the Specialized Prosecutorial Anticorruption Department reported 188 trial convictions and 163 plea agreements. The number of cases proceeding through the courts indicated the anticorruption prosecutorial departments made progress in working with other government agencies, investigating malfeasance, and indicting suspects.

The newly formed Anticorruption Department within the Ministry of Interior was created to investigate corruption and economic crimes. In the first nine months of the year, the department filed 216 criminal charges against 591 low- to mid-level government individuals for 532 crimes. The Police Service for Combating Organized Crime filed two charges for high-level corruption. On October 9, organized crime prosecutors and police arrested and charged an assistant minister for agriculture for accepting bribes. According to the charges, the assistant minister received monthly kickbacks of approximately 1,000 euros ($1,200) for helping a private entity receive a service contract.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The ACA is designed to be an independent institution that monitors financial disclosures of public officials, political party financing, and conflicts of interest. The ACA oversees the filing of disclosures and verifies their completeness and accuracy. Declarations are publicly available on the ACA website and upon request. Failure to file or to disclose income and assets fully is subject to administrative and criminal sanctions. Significant changes to assets or income must be reported annually. Officials also must file a disclosure form immediately after leaving office and must inform the ACA of any significant changes to their assets for two years after leaving office.

The ACA continued to initiate administrative and criminal proceedings against several former and current government officials who failed to file or incorrectly filed asset disclosure forms. Between January 1 and June 30, the ACA recommended the dismissal of Vrnjacka Banja Mayor Boban Durovic because of a conflict of interest related to nepotism and reported investigating the former mayor of Brus and Brus Municipal Assembly member Milutin Jelicic Jutka for failing to disclose assets. Transparency Serbia and investigative media outlets, however, criticized the ACA throughout the year for failing to investigate numerous cases of high-level corruption, failure to report assets, and conflicts of interest.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without major government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to questions on this subject, at times government bodies selectively ignored freedom of information requests, especially those related to COVID-19 emergency measures. Forty-one initiatives disputing the constitutionality or legality of general enactments adopted during the state of emergency were filed with the Constitutional Court by May 13. The Constitutional Court did not begin a review of constitutionality or legality of any of the initiatives, nor did it dismiss them.

Civil society groups were subject to criticism, harassment, investigation, and threats from some public officials as well as nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets and a number of suspected government-organized NGOs. The government’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering (APML) sent an official request on July 13 to all commercial banks in the country to provide information and documentation related to all transactions and accounts of 37 civil organizations, media, and individuals for the previous year. The organizations and individuals included media associations, investigative journalists, philanthropy and community crowdsourcing organizations, and human rights and accountability monitoring groups. While the APML has authority to request this information, the appearance of selective investigation raised great concern. Official statements and media reporting on the investigation negatively influenced public opinion with regard to the targeted civil society groups and put some individuals at risk of danger.

On October 10, extremists attacked a local art gallery and destroyed art that they deemed anti-Christian. Police arrested five suspects (three of them minors) involved in the attack, who were to face criminal charges. The Ministry of Culture issued a statement condemning the violence against the gallery but also stated the presentation of “indecent and immoral content under the guise of artistic creativity rightly provokes negative reaction.”

On September 24, the Helsinki Committee premiered the play, Srebrenica: When We, the Killed, Rise Up, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica. Immediately following the premiere, the Helsinki Committee and the play’s director and actors received threats on social media for their involvement in the play and its message. In an October 6 press statement, the Helsinki Committee criticized these “brutal threats” and called on the police, Prosecutor’s Office, and courts to prevent further intimidation. The Helsinki Committee reported it provided evidence of the threats to the Ministry of Interior’s Cybercrime Unit and police but received no official response.

Under the state of emergency, the government Office for Cooperation with Civil Society discontinued the allocation of grants from the country’s budget to organizations granted EU funding under a 2019 call for proposals, including for projects focused on investigation and monitoring of human rights. Requests from civil society groups for waivers to allow them to deliver humanitarian assistance and services to vulnerable categories during the emergency lockdown were ignored, which ultimately resulted in their inability to assist the most vulnerable members of the population.

In February members of the far-right Serbian Radical Party, led by convicted war criminal and, at the time, member of parliament Vojislav Seselj, physically and verbally assaulted Natasa Kandic, recipient of the first international Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award in 2013, and other activists in a Belgrade municipal building as they distributed a report detailing information on war crimes committed in the country. There were no arrests or charges against those who attacked the group.

By law NGOs without a lawyer registered in the bar are not allowed to provide legal aid, apart from a few exceptions. The Belgrade Bar Association warned that attorneys who act as statutory representatives for NGOs would be disbarred. In late 2019, 14 CSOs notified the international human rights community, including the International Bar Association, that the Belgrade Bar discriminated against CSOs with regard to their ability to provide free legal aid and raised concerns that the association’s actions would limit access to legal aid for vulnerable populations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2019 there were 2,595 Serbia-related cases presented before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of which 2,445 (94 percent) were rejected. Of the remaining 150 cases, there were 24 verdicts, 22 of which established at least one ECHR violation. The country generally implemented ECHR’s decisions. On October 26, parliament amended the Law on Ministries, removing the Justice Ministry’s obligation to monitor the execution of ECHR decisions, along with the obligation to represent the country and publicly disclose ECHR verdicts.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Government bodies dedicated to the protection of human rights included the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, and the Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection. All three bodies were active during the year and especially during the state of emergency. On October 25, the government created the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue.

The Office of the Ombudsman was responsible for responding to citizen complaints, identifying problems within state institutions, and making recommendations on remedies. Three new deputy ombudspersons were appointed a year after the expiration of the previous mandates; one deputy was yet to be appointed. The number of complaints filed by citizens with the Ombudsman’s Office during the COVID-19 state of emergency was significantly higher than usual (4,700 between January and June, compared with an average of 1,400 annually).

The Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality (equality commissioner) celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 27, the same day the commissioner’s five-year term in office expired. While the parliament must elect a new equality commissioner within three months of the expiration of the previous commissioner’s term in office, as of October it had not done so due to the pandemic and parliamentary elections. Before leaving office, the outgoing equality commissioner issued six recommendations concerning the COVID-19 state of emergency, mostly aimed at improving the status of those who were at greater risk of discrimination, such as victims of domestic violence, elderly persons, and socially vulnerable persons.

The commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection was active in issuing opinions and advisories before, during, and after the state of emergency, including one highlighting the importance of access to timely information and protection of personal data. At the initiative of the Share Foundation, a local CSO, the commissioner requested that Google appoint a representative in the country pursuant to the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which the company did on May 21. The commissioner and citizens may now report all problems related to online data processing to Google’s Serbia representative to ensure compliance with the PDPA.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media reported that through mid-August, 16 women had been killed in family violence. According to the Justice Ministry, there were 12,332 victims of family violence through mid-August, 8,924 of whom were women.

The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. Women’s groups often cited a lack of timely and efficient institutional reaction, lack of response to reports of violence, and a tendency by authorities to minimize the circumstances that affect survivors’ security as contributing to the violence against women.

In May 2019 Mirjana Jankovic and her parents (Nada Pajic and Branislav Pajic) were killed in their family home in Novi Sad. Mirjana’s husband, Goran Jankovic, admitted to killing them with a hammer in front of his and Mirjana’s two children, ages 10 and three. He then threatened to hurt his children if they told anyone he had been in the home and fled. Mirjana had reported Jankovic for domestic violence and possession of an illegal weapon two weeks before the killing; she was granted a restraining order that should have barred him from approaching or entering the family home. In February, Goran Jankovic committed suicide in Novi Sad District Prison.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of men and women is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not as serious harassment.

On July 7, the country’s first prominent case of prosecution of a powerful individual for sexual harassment ended with a verdict against the former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic. Jelicic was sentenced to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic, a municipal government worker in the city.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. Most persons had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to a 2018 UN Serbia report on sexual and reproductive rights, however, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked the same access as other women to information and the means to manage their reproductive health. Although there are no legal barriers to contraception, contraception remained taboo for some persons, reducing its use. According to a 2017 research by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by age 15 and 31 percent before age 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population among vulnerable populations with a maternal mortality rate over 10 percent. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were subject to discrimination, both at home and in the labor force, with regard to marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and access to housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women on average did more than twice as many hours of domestic work as men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through the age of 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age. Romani children were also disproportionately identified as having mental or intellectual disabilities and were often sent to segregated schools that limited their educational outcomes.

By law ethnic minority populations have the right to be educated in their minority language, but this right was not respected. The Albanian National Minority Council provided free textbooks in Albanian for 4,000 Albanian students with financial support from the Coordination Body for Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja, as well as the Albanian and Kosovo governments.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse with penalties ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect. According to the Justice Ministry, 1,715 children were registered since 2017 as victims or at risk from becoming victims of family violence. The Autonomous Women’s Center reported that only 5 percent of all measures issued in cases of family violence in 2019 pertained to violence against children. In May the government adopted the Strategy for Prevention and Protection of Children from Abuse for 2020-2023 and the National Action Plan 2020-2021 to combat the problem further. Children also suffered violence stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization of children and made them vulnerable to child abuse, discrimination, child marriage, and child labor. Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. The country’s efforts to prevent child abuse largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court may allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities but were not legal marriages. UNICEF reporting on child marriages in Romani communities stated the prevalence of child marriages in those communities had steadily increased. More than half of Romani girls were married by the age of 18, and one in five was married before the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, to include selling, offering, or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law, but abuses nonetheless occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. During the year media reported on several cases of children who were sexually exploited by their parents. In March police arrested a father for sharing online footage of the sexual abuse of his minor daughter, and in August police arrested a man for raping his minor stepdaughter. In a separate case in Nis, a woman, together with four men, were arrested on trafficking charges related to her minor daughter. In September police arrested a man on charges of sexually abusing a minor and production and possession of pornographic material.

Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.

Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, and their placement in foster families, but the country had not adopted a comprehensive deinstitutionalization strategy. Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced additional problems, including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. The majority of children with mental disabilities remained excluded from the educational system due to structural obstacles and prevalent discrimination that prevented them from entering formal education.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or used bookshops or posted online. Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature. According to Jewish community leaders, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, online anti-Semitism rose dramatically in chat rooms discussing COVID-19 conspiracy theories laced with anti-Semitic language. In February anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in Novi Sad.

On February 24, the parliament adopted the Law on the Staro Sajmiste Memorial Center, establishing the country’s first Holocaust memorial center at the site of a former concentration camp. The law also extends protection to a separate site of a former concentration camp called Topovske Supe. On February 26, the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the occupation by Nazi Germany was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and supporting laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The EC’s Serbia 2020 Report noted the government adopted a strategic framework regarding the rights of persons with disabilities in March but lacked a comprehensive strategy on deinstitutionalization. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. According to the equality commissioner’s 2019 annual report, persons with disabilities were among the most vulnerable groups in all aspects of social and economic life. Approximately 16 percent of all complaints filed with the commissioner were those of instances of discrimination on grounds of disability. Most of these complaints related to accessibility issues in public spaces, which limited the ability of persons with disabilities to access public services including postal services, health care, and other government services. A high number of persons with disabilities were poor or at risk of becoming poor, had difficulty getting a job, and lacked adequate education.

The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated. Persons with disabilities were excluded from some events promoting inclusion, demonstrating low government capacity to consider accessibility when planning public events.

According to the equality commissioner’s 2019 report, the lack of inclusion and support for children with disabilities in education continued. Some of the complaints filed with the commissioner indicated a lack of provision of transportation services or personal assistants to children with disabilities. According to media reports, authorities did not adapt online teaching programs, instituted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to meet the needs of children with developmental disabilities. The Ministry of Education announced there would be no special education or specific recommendations for children with disabilities in regular or special schools. The provision of pedagogical and personal assistance to support children in distance learning depends on individual schools based on their needs assessment and resources. The Center for Investigative Journalism reported that during the state of emergency, some schools did not organize teaching for children with learning difficulties.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues; the Ministry of Education , Science, and Technological Development ; and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities.

According to research done by the equality commissioner in late 2019, the general public, including employers, recognized persons with disabilities as subject to the greatest discrimination when it comes to employment. The National Employment Agency funded several employment programs for persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

According to the equality commissioner, Roma were subject to many types of discrimination; independent observers and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. Approximately 64 percent of all complaints filed with the commissioner related to discrimination against Roma.

Ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination and disproportionately unemployed.

The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against minorities. The stand-alone government Office for Human and Minority Rights supported minority communities. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.

Hate speech occurred, however, including by senior government officials, including Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who continuously used a pejorative racial slur for Albanians.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. National minority councils represented the country’s ethnic minority groups and had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. New council members were seated following the 2018 minority council elections and were to serve four-year terms.

According to the director of the government’s Office for Human and Minority Rights, more than 60,000 minority schoolchildren received education in their mother tongue. The Albanian National Minority Council provided Albanian textbooks to approximately 4,000 Albanian students in the country.

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

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but is generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community were serious problems. On the occasion of International Transgender Day of Visibility, NGOs stated that transgender persons were still subjected to discrimination, hatred, and transphobic and transmisogynist violence, both verbally and physically, and to certain forms of institutional and online violence.

Credible NGOs noted a lack of significant progress in establishing dialogue, educating the public on LGBTI issues, and addressing hate crimes and bias-motivated violence.

According to NGOs, activists, and independent institutions, discrimination against members of the LGBTI community continued. The equality commissioner stated that workplace discrimination, degrading treatment in public, hate speech, and physical attacks remained part of daily life for some LGBTI persons and indicated that homophobia and transphobia were present. The ombudsman stated that “LGBTI persons were exposed to attacks and threats, were often victims of stereotypes, prejudice, hate speech, and hate crimes.” He cited difficulty for young persons forced to leave their homes after disclosing their sexual orientation, which became even more prominent and dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of safe houses or other temporary accommodation services. NGO activists commented that homophobic members of society often used the LGBTI community as a way to score political points.

The NGOs Center for Research and Development of Society (IDEAS) and the Gay-Lesbian Info Center conducted social network research in May and June and reported that 58 percent of LGBTI high school students suffered some form of violence; 50 percent suffered psychological violence; 8 percent suffered physical violence; and 3 percent suffered sexual violence. The violence most frequently occurred at school, where 71 percent of LGBTI students heard teachers degrading LGBTI persons due to their sexual and gender identity.

On February 28, a group of masked men broke into the Belgrade Pride Info Center’s entrance and destroyed their inventory. This was the 11th attack against the center since its opening in 2018. The prime minister and ombudsman condemned the attack, but there were no reports of arrests related to the incident. NGOs reported that attackers against LGBTI persons were rarely convicted in court. On March 2, a group of young persons gathered in the town of Leskovac to protest against a fake social media posting which said the city would host a pride parade. The group chanted slogans against LGBTI persons and engaged in physical altercations with police.

In 2018 the courts issued their first verdict using the country’s hate crime provision. Hate crimes are not stand-alone offenses but can be deemed an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. The case involved multiple episodes of domestic violence perpetrated against a gay man by his father in the family home. The perpetrator was given a three-year suspended sentence. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light because the perpetrator would not serve prison time as long as he met the conditions of his suspended sentence.

On three separate occasions during Belgrade’s September 14-20 pride week, criminals vandalized the office of an organization whose members participated in pride week events with homophobic slurs and Nazi symbols.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV or AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. According to Serbia’s Public Health Institute, in the country, there were 2,843 individuals with diagnosed HIV infection, and it was estimated that another 400 persons did not know they were infected by the virus. Since the beginning of the year, 55 persons had been infected with the HIV virus, which was three times less than in the same period in 2019, when 175 cases of infection were recorded. The equality commissioner’s annual report noted that persons with HIV or AIDS were extremely vulnerable to discrimination but were often unwilling to make a complaint, making the scale of the problem difficult to define.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, and employers must verify that union leaders are full-time employees. The government designated more than 50 percent of the workforce as “essential,” and these workers faced restrictions on the right to strike. Essential workers must provide 10 days’ advance notification of a strike as well as provide a “minimum level of work” during the strike. By law strikes may be staged only on the employer’s premises. The law prohibits discrimination based on trade union membership but does not provide any specific sanctions for antiunion harassment, nor does it expressly prohibit discrimination against trade union activities. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, and fired workers generally returned to work quickly.

The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, a federation of unions that operated independently but was generally supportive of government policies, had more members than independent labor unions in both the public and private sector. Independent trade unions are able to organize and address management in state-owned companies on behalf of their members.

The labor law protects the right to bargain collectively, and this right was effectively enforced and practiced. The law requires collective bargaining agreements for any company with more than 10 employees. To negotiate with an employer, however, a union must represent at least 15 percent of company employees. The law provides collective bargaining agreements to employers who are not members of the employers’ association or do not engage in collective bargaining with unions. The law stipulates that employers subject to a collective agreement with employees must prove they employ at least 50 percent of workers in a given sector to apply for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to employers outside the agreement.

The government generally enforced the labor law with respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Both public- and private-sector employees may freely exercise the right to strike, although no strikes occurred during the year. The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate staffing and equipment, which limited the number of labor inspections as a means of enforcing the labor law.

There were allegations of antiunion dismissals and discrimination. Labor NGOs worked to increase awareness regarding workers’ rights.

In October the Military-Disciplinary Court confirmed a 2019 court decision to remove the general secretary of the Military Trade Union of Serbia, Predrag Jevtic, from his job in the army. In 2018 Jevtic was accused of giving an interview to the daily newspaper Kurir and for his media statements as a legal representative of the trade union in which he was critical of the working conditions in the army. Jevtic’s lawyer announced a plan to submit countercharges against the court while the Military Trade Union of Serbia requested support for Jevtic from Tanja Fajon, a member of the European Parliament.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government supported companies through an economic and financial package that amounted to more than 12 percent of the country’s GDP under the condition companies not dismiss workers. Labor inspectors supervised the implementation of the measures and organization of the work in accordance with the safety standards.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law also prohibits all forms of labor trafficking and “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery.” The government generally enforced the law, but incidents of forced labor were occasionally reported. Citizens of the country, particularly men, were reportedly subjected to labor trafficking in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry in Russia, other European countries, and the United Arab Emirates. Penalties for violations within the country were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

A number of children, primarily from the Roma community, were forced to engage in begging, theft, domestic work, commercial sexual exploitation, and other forms of labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15, and youths younger than 18 require written parental or guardian permission to work. The labor law stipulates specific working conditions for minors and limits their workweek to 35 hours, with a maximum of eight hours work per day with no overtime or night work. The law regulates seasonal work, including in agriculture, and specifies that a work contract be required to employ minors.

The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry for Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not always enforce the applicable laws effectively, and penalties were not always commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The criminal code does not treat child beggars as victims, and the country’s Social Welfare Centers were overburdened, limiting efforts to combat child labor, including its worst forms.

According to the inspectorate, in 2019 inspectors registered one labor case involving a child younger than age 15 working at a bakery. The inspector immediately issued a decision forbidding the child from working until preconditions prescribed by the law were fulfilled. In 2019 inspectors registered 41 cases involving the registered employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18, contrary to the provisions of the Labor Law, in the areas of hospitality, bakeries, construction, agriculture, fruit and vegetable processing, retail and groceries, and various personal services. Inspectors issued 11 decisions ordering employers to terminate employment contracts for temporary jobs and eight decisions to obtain the required parental permission and approval from the authorized health institution. Misdemeanor proceedings were initiated in 22 cases.

The government had institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. Gaps existed, however, within the operations of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs that hindered adequate enforcement of their child labor laws. In villages and farming communities, underage children commonly worked in family businesses. In urban areas children, primarily Roma, worked in the informal sector as street vendors, car washers, and garbage sorters.

With regard to the worst forms of child labor, traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation, used children in the production of pornography and drugs, and sometimes forced children to beg and commit crimes. Some Romani children were forced into manual labor or begging.

The government’s enforcement efforts and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law provides penalties for parents or guardians who force a minor to engage in begging, excessive labor, or labor incompatible with his or her age, but it was inconsistently enforced, and beggars were treated as offenders. The Labor Inspectorate reported no children being removed from labor situations because of convictions.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit direct and indirect discrimination in employment and occupation and the government enforced these laws with varying degrees of effectiveness. Penalties and enforcement were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment and occupation reportedly occurred with respect to race, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ethnicity, and HIV-positive status. In 2019 labor inspectors did not issue any decisions regarding discrimination or gender equality at work. Inspectors conducted 1,039 inspections and in 15 cases ordered measures for eliminating identified irregularities related to gender equality in accordance with the law. In the labor force, women experienced discrimination in hiring, underrepresentation in management, and lower compensation than their male colleagues.

In one example, in 2018, Snezana Pesovic went public with a case of discrimination against her employer. Pesovic claimed that, despite being an employee for 12 years, she remained unregistered and her employer did not make health insurance or pension contributions, as the law requires. Upon learning she was pregnant, Pesovic asked her employer to register her so she could receive maternity benefits. Her employer agreed but only under the condition that she pay the contributions herself and sign a voluntary termination agreement that allowed the employer to terminate her at the employer’s convenience. By the end of her maternity leave, the benefit she was receiving was less than the contributions her employer was forcing her to make. Her employer invoked the voluntary termination option when her case appeared in the media. The equality commissioner agreed to take the case and represent Pesovic in a lawsuit against her employer. At year’s end the case was going through court proceedings.

The equality commissioner’s 2019 annual report identified 478 discrimination complaints in the area of labor and employment, the highest number from all areas of discrimination, which accounted for 32 percent of the total complaints received in 2019. Since labor and employment discrimination complaints are frequently among the highest types of complaints, the commissioner submitted a special report on the topic to parliament in 2019 highlighting the issue. The highest number of discrimination complaints involved accommodation for persons with disabilities, followed by allegations of discrimination based on age, gender, birth, health status, national or ethnic origin, marital or family status, and sexual orientation.

The EC’s Serbia 2020 Report identified Roma, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV or AIDS, and other vulnerable individuals as the groups most subject to discrimination. It highlighted that adoption of amendments to the law on antidiscrimination to further align with the EU acquis communautaire (the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions which constitution the total body of EU law) as well as the adoption of a new law on gender equality were seriously delayed. The report also highlighted the equality commissioner’s assessment that the socioeconomic status of women was significantly worse than that of men. A study by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy found discrimination was most frequent in hiring and employment, with the state and its institutions as the major discriminators. The law provides for equal pay, but employers frequently did not observe these provisions. According to a 2017 report by the country’s statistics office, women earned on average 22 percent less per month than their male counterparts. Other reports showed their career advancement was slower, they were underrepresented in most professions, and they faced discrimination related to parental leave.

The International Labor Organization noted allegations that the law restricting the maximum age of employees in the public sector, adopted in 2015, is discriminatory because it obliges women workers in the public sector to retire at age 62, whereas male workers can work up to the age of 65. The law states that the retirement age for women will continue to increase incrementally until the retirement age is 65 for both men and women. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

Labor NGOs worked to improve the conditions of women, persons with disabilities, and other groups facing discrimination in employment or occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was above the poverty level for a single-member household but below the poverty level for a household with multiple members.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Companies with a trade union presence generally respected minimum wage requirements because of monitoring by the union. Some smaller, private-sector employers, however, were unwilling or unable to pay minimum wages and mandatory social benefits to all their employees, leading those companies to employ unregistered, off-the-books workers. Unregistered workers, paid in cash without social or pension contributions, frequently did not report labor violations because they feared losing their jobs. Informal arrangements existed most often in the trade, hotel and restaurant, construction, agriculture, and transport sectors. The most frequently reported legal violations in the informal sector related to contractual obligations, payment of salaries, changes to the labor contract, and overtime. According to labor force survey data, informal employment represented 15.2 percent of total employment in the second quarter of the year, 4.2 percent lower than a year earlier. Independent estimates suggested the informal sector might represent up to 30 percent of the economy.

The law stipulates a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for paid leave, annual holidays, and premium pay for night and overtime hours. A worker may have up to eight hours of overtime per week and may not work more than 12 hours in one day, including overtime. At least a 12-hour break is required between shifts during a workweek, and at least a 24-hour break is required over a weekend. The standard workweek and mandatory breaks were observed in state-owned enterprises but sometimes not in smaller, private companies, where the inspectors and unions had less ability to monitor practices.

The labor law requires that the premium for overtime work be at least 26 percent of the base salary, as defined by the relevant collective bargaining agreement. Trade unions within a company were the primary agents for enforcing overtime pay, although the Labor Inspectorate had enforcement responsibilities in companies and industries without union presence. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The law requires that companies must establish a safety unit to monitor observance of regulations regarding safety and the protection of personal health. These units often focus on rudimentary aspects of occupational safety and health (such as purchasing soap and detergents), rather than on providing safety equipment for workers. In cases in which the employer did not take action, an employee may report the inaction to the Labor Inspectorate. Employers may call the Labor Inspectorate if they believe an employee’s request related to safety and health conditions is not justified.

In case of a direct threat to life and health, employees have the right to take action or to remove themselves from the job or situation without responsibility for any damage it may cause the employer and without jeopardy to their employment. For the first eight months of the year, the Labor Inspectorate completed 15,927 safety and health at work inspections. Inspectors issued 2,616 decisions on deficiencies in safety and health conditions in the workplace, including 307 decisions barring an employee from continuing to work, which was 41 percent lower than during the same period in 2019. The inspectors filed 594 requests for misdemeanor proceedings against individuals for failure to provide a safe workplace for employees, which was 45 percent lower than the same period in 2019. The Labor Inspectorate employed inspectors and was responsible for worker safety and health, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The government enforced occupational safety and health laws with varying degrees of effectiveness. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of similar crimes, such as negligence. Labor inspectors were able to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions but were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Labor Inspectorate, the most common violations of workers’ rights involved work performed without an employment contract; nonpayment of salary, overtime, and benefits; employers not following procedures in terminating employment contracts; nonpayment of obligatory pension and health contributions; and employers withholding maternity leave allowances. During the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate recorded 22 workplace accidents in which an employee died. Cases of death and injury were most common in the construction, transportation and storage, agricultural, and industrial sectors of the economy.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. In 2019 the country held parliamentary and presidential elections in the first transition of power since its first democratic elections in 2014. In October 2019 the country held free and fair parliamentary elections that resulted in the Nahda Party winning a plurality of the votes, granting the party the opportunity to form a new government. President Kais Saied, an independent candidate without a political party, came to office on October 23, 2019, after winning the country’s second democratic presidential elections. Three months prior to the elections, President Caid Essebsi died of natural causes, and power transferred to Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Ennaceur as acting president until President Saied took office. On February 20, parliament approved Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh’s cabinet. Prime Minister Fakhfakh resigned from his position on July 15 ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence responding to allegations of a conflict of interest. On July 25, President Saied named Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi prime minister-designate. On September 2, parliament approved Mechichi’s cabinet.

The Ministry of Interior holds legal authority and responsibility for law enforcement. The ministry oversees the National Police, which has primary responsibility for law enforcement in the major cities, and the National Guard (gendarmerie), which oversees border security and patrols smaller towns and rural areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed periodic abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, primarily by terrorist groups; allegations of torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions of suspects under antiterrorism or emergency laws; undue restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including criminalization of libel; widespread corruption, although the government took steps to combat it; societal violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct that resulted in arrests and abuse by security forces; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed abuses, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took some preliminary steps to implement these laws.

Corruption: The National Authority for the Combat against Corruption (INLUCC), an independent body charged with investigating and preventing corruption and drafting policies to combat corruption, continued to process corruption cases. On May 29, Chawki Tabib, former head of INLUCC, stated that petty corruption or “bribery,” cost the country between three and four billion dinars (1.1 to 1.5 billion dollars) annually. Tabib said a study found that 15 percent of citizens considered “bribery” to be normal, and they paid to obtain administrative services, prevent the implementation of the law, or obtain a service intended for others. During a September 7 parliamentary hearing, INLUCC member Olfa Chahbi stated that in its 10 years in operation, INLUCC referred more than 1,800 corruption cases to the judiciary out of more than 39,000 cases of corruption it received. In March, Tabib noted it takes seven to 10 years on average to process corruption cases in the judicial system and that such a lengthy process suggests to the public it is “useless” to attempt to hold corrupt persons accountable.

Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned from his position on July 15 after independent Member of Parliament Yassine Ayari brought a case of conflict of interest against him in June. The financial public prosecutor asked INLUCC to share any documentation related to the case. On July 15, INLUCC published a report on Fakhfakh’s case, which highlighted that from 2015 through 2017, Fakhfakh’s companies declared “none” to the taxation authorities, raising the question of tax evasion. On July 19, INLUCC gave the court additional documents and evidence related to “conflict of interest, financial and administrative corruption, and tax evasion allegations.” According to a leaked document from the INLUCC case, Fakhfakh may have used state information to which he had access while serving as minister of finance from 2013-14 to obtain state contracts for a company he partially owned. Fakhfakh started a service provider company in 2014, which eventually became part of a consortium that won state-owned contracts, including an important waste management contract near Gabes. When Fakhfakh became prime minister in February, he was required to divest his two-thirds ownership of the company in accordance with the 2018 Asset Declaration Law for public officials. INLUCC notified Fakhfakh in June he had one month to divest his ownership according to the law, and when Fakhfakh failed to do so, the case went to court. On October 15, the Ministry of Justice’s Economic and Financial Division launched an investigation.

On August 24, then prime minister Fakhfakh dismissed INLUCC chair Chawki Tabib and appointed Judge Imed Boukhris to replace him. Tabib filed an appeal with the Administrative Court, arguing his dismissal was “illegal.” On August 25, a collective of national authorities that cover anti-TIP, antitorture, elections, access to information, audio visual, personal data, and human rights issues alleged that Fakhfakh dismissed Tabib as retribution for Tabib’s role in the conflict of interest case. The National Center for State Courts’ legal opinion called Tabib’s dismissal “illegitimate” and “an attack on political ethics.” On September 3, Tabib announced he would step down as INLUCC chair and President Saied swore in Boukhris as his replacement. On September 9, the Administrative Court ruled against Tabib’s appeal.

INLUCC opened 15 renovated regional offices in Gabbes, Gafsa, Jendouba, Medenine, and Tozeur to assist citizens outside of Tunis in reporting corruption to the body.

In October 2019 the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Judicial Counterterrorism Division announced its decision to close the case against businessman Chafik Jarraya for “plotting against national security.” In 2017 the government arrested Jarraya and seven other prominent businessmen, including two former customs officials, on allegations of smuggling, embezzlement, conspiracy against the safety of the state, and complicity with a foreign government. With the October 2019 ruling, Jarraya and the other defendants were acquitted of national security charges but had to remain in detention pending the conclusion of the investigation into the smuggling and embezzlement allegations. As of December, Jarraya remained in detention.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires those holding high government offices to declare assets “as provided by law.” In 2018 parliament adopted the Assets Declaration Law, identifying 35 categories of public officials required to declare their assets upon being elected or appointed and upon leaving office. By law INLUCC is then responsible for publishing the lists of assets of these individuals on its website. In addition the law requires other individuals in specified professions that have a public role to declare their assets to INLUCC, although this information would not be made public. This provision applies to journalists, media figures, civil society leaders, political party leaders, and union officials. The law also enumerates a “gift” policy, defines measures to avoid conflicts of interest, and stipulates the sanctions that apply in cases of illicit enrichment.

On September 2, members of Prime Minister Mechichi’s government and 217 members of parliament declared their assets with INLUCC. There was no information on the number of other government officials who declared their assets according to the law.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published without government restriction their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s primary agency to investigate human rights violations and combat threats to human rights is the Ministry of Justice. Human rights organizations contended, however, that the ministry failed to pursue or investigate adequately alleged human rights violations. Within the President’s Office, the High Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is a government-funded agency charged with monitoring human rights and advising the president on related topics. The minister in charge of relations with constitutional bodies, civil society, and human rights has responsibility for coordinating government activities related to human rights, such as proposing legislation, representing the government before international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council, and preparing human rights reports.

The independent transitional justice Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), established in 2014 to investigate gross violations of human rights committed by the government or those who acted in its name from 1955 to 2013, concluded its mandate in 2018. In March 2019 the IVD published the final report of its findings and activities. The report’s five volumes document the commission’s findings pertaining to claims of gross violations of human rights committed between July 1955 and December 2013. It also made recommendations how to guarantee nonrepetition of these human rights violations, including through the “preservation of memory,” reconciliation, and institutional reforms. The law requires the government to prepare an action plan to implement these recommendations within one year of the publication of the IVD’s final report. The government formally published the Truth and Dignity Commission report on June 25.

The civil society coalition for transitional justice issued a statement on May 29 urging the government and the Supreme Judicial Council to address challenges faced by the Specialized Criminal Courts (SCCs), which were established by the Transitional Justice Law to adjudicate cases transferred by the IVD of human rights violations and financial crimes from 1955 to 2013. The coalition asserted the pace of hearings was slowed by issues such as the refusal of police unions to cooperate with the SCCs to deliver subpoenas and other requests and the regular rotation of SCC judges and their part-time status. The IVD referred 204 cases to the SCCs, including 49 related to corruption and 155 related to gross human rights violations, representing a total of 1,426 accused persons and 1,120 victims. No case has been resolved to date. Although there were 13 SCCs throughout the country, 50 percent of the transitional justice cases were heard at the SCC in Tunis. According to the World Organization against Torture, transitional justice cases have on average three hearings with a period of 93 days between each hearing.

The government established the INPT in 2013 to respond to allegations of torture and mistreatment (see section 1.c.).

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law broadly defines violence against women as “any restriction denying women equality in the civil, political, economic, social, or cultural domains.” The 2018 law criminalizing gender-based violence adds or updates articles in the penal code to meet international best practices. It criminalizes rape, incest, sexual harassment of women in public places, and gender discrimination.

The amended law also eliminates the possibility for a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim. Rape remained a taboo subject, and cultural pressures often dissuaded victims from reporting sexual assault. There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Victims received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country, in addition to five centers dedicated to victims of gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Justice tracked gender-based violence cases, gathering information on cases in each court. The government did not, however, systematically track the number of rape cases. Civil society representatives reported anecdotally that few cases have resulted in a conviction under the new law.

On January 31, the First Instance Court of Gafsa sentenced a 40-year-old man to life in prison for raping a three-year-old girl, under the 2018 law.

Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem. The law provides penalties for domestic violence and allows women to seek restraining orders against their abusers without filing a criminal case or filing for divorce.

The Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens monitored complaints of domestic violence and worked with civil society to increase awareness about the law and connect women with available support services. The ministry operated a national hotline for victims of violence. On May 5, Minister Asma Sehiri stated the number of cases of violence against women, children, and the elderly increased seven times during the COVID-19 confinement period of March 22 to May 4, compared with the same period last year.

There were five centers dedicated to providing assistance to women victims of violence, one managed by the ministry and four by civil society organizations. Minister Sehiri stated the ministry dedicated a new shelter for 30 women victims of violence to help protect them from the spread of the coronavirus.

Sexual Harassment: The 2018 gender-based violence law includes a revised article related to sexual harassment. It allows up to a two-year sentence for the harasser and a 5,000-dinar ($1,840) fine, instead of the previous one year in prison. The law further clarifies that sexual harassment can include any act, gesture, or words with sexual connotation. It also expanded the definition of sexual harassment to include harassment in the street. The punishment is doubled if the victim is a child or the perpetrator has authority over the victim.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the means and information to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that during the year, 22 of the 24 governorates in country provided reproductive health services, including skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, but the quality of care varied by region. Several centers were temporarily closed during the national COVID-19 lockdown from April through June. A survey of midwives revealed that approximately 50 percent of centers for sexual and reproductive health services reduced or suspended their operations after the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The UNFPA reported that in 2019 a skilled birth attendant facilitated approximately 99 percent of births.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Justice, although services were often delayed.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution and law explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Women faced societal rather than statutory barriers to their economic and political participation. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion, judges drew upon interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance disputes.

Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or to keep them separate. Sharia inheritance law in some instances provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to those given sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other, unless they seek a legal judgment based on the rights enshrined in the constitution. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to one-third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth from one’s parents, and the law provides for a period of 10 days to register a newborn. Thereafter, parents have 30 days to explain why they failed to register a newborn and complete the registration. Female citizens can transmit citizenship on an equal basis with male citizens, and there is no discrimination between a mother and father regarding passport application and authorization to leave the country.

On July 16, the then minister of local affairs, Lotfi Zitoun, canceled a 1965 circular that prohibited the registration of a newborn under a non-Arabic first name.

Child Abuse: In 2019 UNICEF reported that 88 percent of children ages one to 14 were subjected to physical, verbal, or psychological violence in their homes and at school. In October 2019 the Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens reported it received approximately 17,000 notifications related to child abuse cases, which the ministry attributed to “growing awareness among citizens about the need to denounce perpetrators of violence.” In May the ministry reported it had received 448 notifications regarding cases of children at risk during COVID-19 related shutdowns.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18, but the courts may, in certain situations, authorize the marriage of persons younger than 18 upon the request and approval of both parents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Anyone who has sexual relations with a child younger than age 16 is subject to 20 years in prison with the possibility of a life sentence if there were aggravating circumstances, such as incest or the use of violence (see section 6, Women). The court may drop the charges of sex with a minor if the perpetrator agrees to marry the victim, with the approval of her parents.

The law prohibits child pornography.

In January 2019 authorities closed an unlicensed, privately run Quranic school in Regueb, Sidi Bouzid governorate, and arrested its director and administrators on charges of human trafficking, polygamy, and suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization. Authorities reported many of the children were mistreated and were the victims of economic and sexual abuse. The public prosecutor initiated an investigation into the allegations of child exploitation, and a family judge ordered the transfer of the children to a state-run center in Tunis specializing in caring for children who were victims of abuse. In July 2019 the court sentenced one adult male who was affiliated with the school to 20 years in prison on charges of child sexual abuse. In February the 33 students from the Quranic school resumed their education in public schools. The president of the National Authority against Trafficking in Persons, Raoudha Laabidi, told media the students received medical, social, and psychological care prior to resuming their studies.

In March 2019 the Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens reported that a teacher in Sfax was accused of sexually abusing 20 elementary school students. The ministry announced it would provide the children with psychological support. Subsequent to these allegations, the Ministry of Education indicated the initial investigation revealed these crimes took place outside the school and that, as a result, the ministry would suspend any teacher providing private classes outside of the educational framework. Media later reported that authorities issued an arrest warrant against the teacher, although as of December there were no updates to the investigation.

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

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 1,400 Jews lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic events.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Since 1991 the law requires all new public buildings to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and the government generally enforced the law. Persons with physical disabilities did not have access to most buildings built before 1991. The government did not ensure information and communications were accessible for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The government issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, free and priority medical services, free and preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts. In general public buses and trains were ill suited and not easily accessible to persons with disabilities. As of July 2019, authorities permitted persons with disabilities to obtain a driver’s license from their area of residence rather than the capital.

The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. The government administered approximately 310 schools for children with disabilities, at least five schools for blind pupils, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. These special education centers served individuals ages six to 30. The Ministry of Social Affairs managed centers that provided short- and long-term accommodation and medical services to persons with disabilities who lacked other means of support. During the year the ministry announced it had increased the hiring of persons with disabilities by 2 percent in the public sector.

The Ibsar Association, which worked to promote rights for all persons with disabilities, estimated that fewer than one-third of persons with disabilities held a government-issued disability card, which entitles the holder to a monthly government stipend of 120 dinars ($44). The Ministry of Social Affairs stated that during the year, families that included persons with disabilities received 180 dinars ($66) per month and an additional 20 dinars (seven dollars) per school-aged child.

One of the greatest challenges for persons with disabilities, according to Ibsar, was a lack of access to information through education, media, or government agencies. There were very limited education options or public-sector accommodations for persons with hearing or visual disabilities. There were no schools for children with hearing disabilities, and Ibsar estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with hearing disabilities were illiterate. The Ministry of Social Affairs stated that during the year, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, the government provided hearing aids to families with hearing disabilities. For children with physical disabilities, infrastructure remained a major hurdle to their social inclusion, as few buildings or cities were accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

For the 2019 national elections, Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) worked with civil society organizations to prepare electoral handbooks in braille and to develop elections-related materials in sign language, including a mobile application that standardizes signed vocabulary and phrases related to elections. Civil society observer groups noted ISIE increased its efforts to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities but that there continued to be a need for effective, timely voter education programs targeted at persons with disabilities and their families.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

In 2018 parliament adopted a law against all forms of racial discrimination, including “all distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, origin, heritage, or all other forms of racial obstruction, obstacle, or deprivation of rights and liberties or their exercise.” The law penalizes acts of racial discrimination with up to three years in prison and a substantial fine for an individual and a larger fine for a legal entity.

On September 20, a video circulated on social media of a Tunisian assaulting two Ivorian nationals. It was revealed later that the assaulter was their boss, a cafe owner in Sousse governorate. The president of the Association of Ivorians in Sousse, who filmed the video, told media, “the two young men went to their boss to claim their two months of unpaid wages. The latter assaulted them and accused them of stealing his coffee machine, to evade payment of wages, when surveillance camera videos show he was the one who took the machine. On their first day of work, he confiscated their passports and later requisitioned their cell phones.” The spokesperson for the First Instance Court of Sousse said the video was authentic, and a judicial investigation was initiated.

In 2018 Falikou Coulibaly, president of the Association of Ivoirians in Tunisia, was killed during a robbery in a suburb of Tunis. Hundreds of Ivorian nationals demonstrated in Tunis to protest Coulibaly’s murder in what they characterized as a racist attack. Then minister in charge of relations with constitutional bodies, civil society, and human rights Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh told media, “It is not clear yet if this is a racist criminal act, but an investigation is ongoing. We are against any act of racism.” The court case remained underway.

On October 14, the Court of First Instance of Medenine issued a verdict in favor of Hamden Atig Dali, allowing him to drop Atig, a reference to slavery, from his name on all official documents. This was the first-ever court decision to permit a legal name change on the basis of racial discrimination.

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

The law criminalizes sodomy. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs, authorities occasionally used the law against sodomy to detain and question persons about their sexual activities and sexual orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. NGOs reported that in some instances lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals were targeted under the penal code article that criminalizes “infringement of morality or public morals,” which carries a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($369).

LGBTI individuals continued to face discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats, although societal stigma and fear of prosecution under sodomy laws discouraged individuals from reporting problems.

On January 13, an officer from the Seventh Police Station in downtown Tunis and two accomplices allegedly assaulted three transgender women, using Tasers and their fists. They left one individual, nicknamed Frifta, with serious injuries, including internal bleeding and a skull fracture, according to the LGBTI-rights organization Damj. Damj, in partnership with Lawyers without Borders (ASF), assisted Frifta in seeking medical care and legal recourse. According to Damj, Frifta filed a complaint against an officer on January 11 for harassment of sex workers and encountered the same officer while walking in Tunis two days later with friends. The officer, accompanied by two others, attacked her in retaliation for her earlier complaint. The Ministry of Interior suspended the primary officer involved and opened an internal investigation, while the Ministry of Justice General Prosecutors’ Office, initiated a separate criminal investigation. Both investigations remained underway. On June 17, Damj said the court in El Kef issued prison sentences in three cases under Article 230, which criminalizes same-sex relations. In one case an individual who filed a complaint of police abuse was charged under articles criminalizing homosexuality and offending a police officer.

On July 28, the appeals court upheld the conviction of two men accused of sodomy but reduced their sentence to one year in prison. The First Instance Court of El Kef initially sentenced the two men on June 3 to two years in prison for homosexuality. A lawyer provided by ASF assisted the defendants and led the appeal process.

According to Damj and ASF, 121 individuals were convicted under Article 230 in 2019, with anal examinations used as the basis for the majority of these convictions. In March-September, Damj registered 21 cases of violence against transgender individuals in public places, 10 cases of torture, and two cases of bullying by security forces in detention facilities. Authorities also issued 12 prison sentences against transgender individuals and gay men under Articles 230, 226, and 125 of the criminal code, which criminalize, respectively, “sodomy,” “deliberately declaring immorality,” and “insulting a public official.” Human rights organizations and LGBTI-focused NGOs stated that since judges often assumed guilt of individuals who refused to submit voluntarily to an exam, individuals felt coerced to submit to anal examinations. On May 17, a coalition of NGOs, the Civil Collective for Individual Liberties, called on the government to accelerate the establishment of the Constitutional Court as a guarantor of rights, decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct, end forced or coerced anal examinations, recognize the rights of transgender individuals, and end harassment of LGBTI-rights organizations. The collective noted, “despite the commitment by Tunisian authorities since 2017 not to resort to the use of anal examinations, courts continue to order this practice.”

No laws restrict freedom of expression, association, or peaceful assembly for those speaking out about LGBTI issues. Nevertheless, in February 2019 the government appealed a 2016 court ruling overturning the government’s complaint that the Shams Association’s charter did not allow it to advocate explicitly for gay rights. Adding to its 2016 case, the government stated, “the Tunisian society rejects homosexuality culturally and legally,” and that the Shams Association violated Article 3 of Decree Law 3 “by conducting activities that contradict Tunisia’s laws and culture.” In May 2019 the Tunis Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Shams Association, noting that Shams did not violate the law by advocating for LGBTI rights. On February 21, the Supreme Court of Appeals issued a final sentence affirming legal status as a civil society organization to the LGBTI-rights Shams Association and rejected the state’s argument that Shams violated the law of associations by advocating for the rights of homosexuals.

There continued to be no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers with the right to organize, form, and join unions, and to bargain collectively. The law allows workers to protest, provided they give 10 days’ advance notice to their federations and receive Ministry of Interior approval. Workers may strike after giving 10 days’ advance notice. The right to strike extends to civil servants, with the exception of workers in essential services “whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety, or health of all or a section of the population.” The government did not explicitly define which services were essential. Authorities largely respected the right to strike in public enterprises and services. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and retribution against strikers. The government generally enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Conciliation panels with equal labor and management representation settled many labor disputes. Otherwise, representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA) formed tripartite regional commissions to arbitrate disputes. Observers generally saw the tripartite commissions as effective.

By law unions must advertise a strike 10 days in advance to be considered a legal action. The decision to hold a strike is internally approved by the union leadership; however, wildcat strikes (those not authorized by union leadership) have increasingly occurred throughout the year. According to the report of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, 798 collective protests, mainly seeking jobs and regional development, were recorded in July alone. Sector-based unions carried out some strikes and sit-ins, such as those in education, security services, health services, and extractive industries. Even if they were not authorized, the Ministry of Interior tolerated most strikes.

An April agreement between the UGTT, UTICA), and the government averted approximately 1.5 million pandemic-related private-sector layoffs, including agricultural and maritime fishing, construction, metal, garment and shoe manufacturing, transportation, and hotels. Under the agreement the government would pay 190 dinars ($70) per worker, and employers would be responsible for paying the remaining salaries, in an effort to ensure that workers remain employed through the crisis caused by COVID-19.

In May workers organized a strike against Gartex Garment Factory for its failure to apply labor laws and regulations on a wide range of health and safety issues, and for violating collective agreements. Tensions had been high between the union and employer since Gartex dismissed the IndustriAll affiliate’s general secretary and assistant general secretary in 2018. In February, Gartex also dismissed additional union leaders, advisory committee members, and 56 workers. In a letter to Gartex, IndustriAll urged management to respect workers’ fundamental labor rights and to reinstate the union leaders and members immediately.

In June the UGTT raised concerns about an uptick in worker rights violations at garment factories since the government allowed them to reopen that month. The UGTT called on employers and the government to reduce short-term contracts and increase formal employment; enact protective measures so workers do not bear the brunt of corporate brands’ rush for products at the lowest cost; urgently address gender-based violence and harassment to ensure decent working conditions, increase safety and health inspections and monitoring; and create space for workers to form and join unions.

In response to the prime minister’s June statements suggesting the possible reduction of salaries of civil servants, public officials, and pensioners due to COVID-19 related crises, the UGTT denounced the government for passing its financial imbalances to workers and stressed the need to respect its commitments and implement agreements reached, including the payment of third tranche wage increases for civil servants and revision of the guaranteed minimum wage. The UGTT further called on the government to respect workers’ contractually guaranteed actions such as promotions and bonuses, the need for serious negotiations to resolve outstanding issues, and for finding solutions to precarious employment.

On June 21, protesters in the southern governorate of Tataouine clashed with security forces near a pumping station and demanded that authorities honor its 2017 pledge to provide thousands of jobs in the gas and oil sectors (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). After extensive negotiations, the government agreed to hire 1,000 employees in the state-owned Environment, Planting and Gardening Company in Tataouine, to create an 80-million dinar ($29 million) development fund for projects in the region, grant loans to 1,000 beneficiaries under the Corporate Social Responsibility Fund, ensure the hiring of 285 workers by private oil and gas companies operating in Tataouine, and create state-owned holding companies in various sectors in the region with priority access to oil and gas companies’ tenders.

The UGTT alleged antiunion practices among private-sector employers, including firing of union activists and using temporary workers to deter unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers continued to account for a significant majority of the workforce. UTICA, along with the government, maintained an exclusive relationship with the UGTT in reaching collective bargaining agreements. The government held organized collective social negotiations only with the UGTT and UTICA. Representatives from the General Confederation of Tunisian Labor and the Union of Tunisian Workers complained their labor organizations were ignored and excluded from tripartite negotiations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor and provides for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for capturing, detaining, or sequestering a person for forced labor. While the government enforced most applicable codes dealing with forced labor, penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and transgressions still occurred in the informal sector.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law generally prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working in jobs that present serious threats to their health, security, or morality. The minimum age for light work in the nonindustrial and agricultural sectors during nonschool hours is 13. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work no more than two hours per day. The total time that children spend at school and work may not exceed seven hours per day. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 must have 12 hours of rest per day, which must include the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in forced labor and domestic work in third-party households. They work nearly 10 hours per day without written contracts and have no social coverage. They are victims of health problems related to the arduous nature and long hours of work and to the dangers to which they may be exposed in the performance of various household tasks and other types of work in employers’ home, begging, street vending, and seasonal agricultural work. They were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs monitored compliance with the minimum-age law by examining employee records. According to ministry officials, the labor inspectorate did not have adequate resources to monitor fully the informal economy, officially estimated to constitute 38 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, more than 1.5 million Tunisians worked in the informal sector by the fourth quarter of 2019, accounting for 44 percent of the total labor force. Occasionally, labor inspectors coordinated spot checks with the UGTT and the Ministry of Education.

The Ministries of Employment and Vocational Training, Social Affairs, Education, and Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens all have programs directed at both children and parents to discourage children from entering the informal labor market at an early age. These efforts include programs to provide vocational training and to encourage youth to stay in school through secondary school. The minister of social affairs told media in 2019 that the number of school dropouts increased more than 50 percent in the preceding five years to 101,000 dropouts in 2018. He estimated that 90 percent of school dropouts come from poor and low-income families, stressing that the poverty rate for children has reached 25 percent, higher than the national rate of 15 percent. UNICEF reported in November that only 56.1 percent of children ages 15-18 complete secondary school, down from 70 percent 20 years ago.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not always effectively enforce those laws and regulations, due to lack of resources and difficulty in identifying when employers’ attitudes toward gender identity or sexual orientation resulted in discriminatory employment practices (see section 6). Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights.

Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. Women are prohibited from employment determined to be dangerous, hard, or harmful to health or trade, or jobs which violate their morals and femininity, in line with public morals. This prevents women from working the same hours as men, as well as in the same sectors, such as in mining and agriculture. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work. The 2018 law on gender-based violence contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap. The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child younger than age 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years.

On October 15, the International Day of Rural Women, the Moussawat (Equality) organization condemned the illegal transport of rural women and demanded information regarding fatal accidents that have killed dozens of women agricultural workers. The organization voiced its support for Law 51 of 2019, which would provide safe transportation for rural agricultural workers, and an equal inheritance law that would support women’s rights. The Moussawat also urged the government to enforce the labor code ensuring that rural women have guaranteed limits on work hours, social security, and equal pay.

Despite the absence of an asylum law, an internal government circular from the Ministry of Social Affairs, issued in May 2019, allowed refugees registered with UNHCR, who hold a regular employment with a contract validated by the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment or who are self-employed, to enroll in the Tunisian social security system, thereby formalizing their employment. The Caisse Nationale pour la Securite Sociale (National Social Security Fund or CNSS) issued a note in this regard in September 2019. According to UNHCR, refugees who fulfill the requirements can apply through their employer for CNSS coverage and their application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Civil society worked with the Ministry of Human Rights and other government bodies to support the most vulnerable among the country’s migrant populations, especially day laborers, those working in the informal sector, or those living in shelters who are adversely impacted by COVID-19 prevention measures. Migrants at the Ouardia Center, a government-run facility for approximately 60 migrants, initiated a hunger strike on April 6 to protest their continued detention, alleged mistreatment, and an absence of COVID-19 prevention measures. The government announced a series of new measures to support the largely sub-Saharan migrant community during the COVID-19 crisis. These included commitments by the Ministry of Interior not to arrest migrants during the remainder of the crisis, to finalize a national migration strategy, to regularize the legal status of current migrants, to release some migrants at the Ouardia Center, and to improve the conditions for those who remained. The ministry also suspended fines for visa overstays during the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed to landlords to forgive migrants’ rent for the months of April and May. Some municipalities guaranteed to cover the rent of sub-Saharan African migrants in need.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. It mandates that at least 2 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages; the minimum wages were above the poverty income level. The Prime Ministry announced in May 2019 an increase of the guaranteed minimum wage in the industrial and agricultural sectors by 6.5 percent.

In 2015 the Ministry of Social Affairs, the UGTT, and the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fishing reached an agreement to improve labor conditions and salaries in agricultural work to match those in the industrial sector. The agreement allows for the protection of rural women against dangerous employment conditions, sets safety standards for handling of hazardous materials, and gives tax incentives for agricultural employers to provide training for workers.

The law sets a maximum standard 48-hour workweek for manual work in the industrial and agricultural sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period per week. For administrative jobs in the private and public sectors, the workweek is 40 hours with 125-percent premium pay for overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Depending on years of service, employees are statutorily awarded 18 to 23 days of paid vacation annually. Although there is no standard practice for reporting labor-code violations, workers have the right to report violations to regional labor inspectors. The government did not adequately enforce the minimum-wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. The prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime was not always enforced. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Special government regulations control employment in hazardous occupations, such as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Workers were free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they could take legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising this right. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing health and safety standards in the workplace. Under the law all workers, including those in the informal sector, are afforded the same occupational safety and health protections. The government did not effectively enforce these health and safety standards. Regional labor inspectors were also responsible for enforcing standards related to hourly wage regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Working conditions and standards generally were better in export-oriented firms, which were mostly foreign owned, than in those firms producing exclusively for the domestic market. According to the government and NGOs, labor laws did not adequately cover the informal sector, where labor violations were reportedly more prevalent. Temporary contract laborers complained they were not afforded the same protections as permanent employees. Credible data on workplace accidents, injuries, and fatalities were not available.

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a unicameral 600-seat parliament (the Grand National Assembly). In presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and the campaign environment, including the jailing of a presidential candidate that restricted the ability of opposition candidates to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely.

The National Police and Jandarma, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in urban areas and rural and border areas, respectively. The military has overall responsibility for border control and external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over law enforcement officials, but mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption remained inadequate. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Under broad antiterror legislation passed in 2018 the government continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended more than 60,000 police and military personnel and approximately 125,000 civil servants, dismissed one-third of the judiciary, arrested or imprisoned more than 90,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accused of masterminding the coup attempt and designated as the leader of the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization.”

Significant human rights issues included: reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and continued detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition politicians and former members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; the existence of political prisoners, including elected officials; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; significant problems with judicial independence; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and unjustified arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking and the existence of criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; some cases of refoulement of refugees; and violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons and members of other minorities.

The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem.

Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist organization and its affiliates continued, although at a reduced level compared with previous years, and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, terrorists, and civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counterterrorist operations.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Parliament charges the Court of Accounts, the country’s supreme audit institution, with accountability related to revenues and expenditures of government departments. Outside this audit system, there was no established pattern of or mechanism for investigating, indicting, and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns regarding the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of corruption cases. According to the Transparency International 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index report, the public procurement system has consistently declined in transparency and competitiveness, with exceptions to the Public Procurement Law widely applied. The open tender rate, which was 75 percent in 2004, had fallen to 63 percent in the first six months of 2019. The total proportion of tenders conducted within the scope of negotiated tendering and exceptions increased from 10 percent to 32 percent between 2004 and 2019. The Transparency International Exporting Corruption 2020 report found that the country did not have sufficient legal mechanisms and enforcement systems against foreign bribery.

During the year the government continued prosecutions against law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors who initiated corruption-related investigations or cases against government officials, alleging the defendants did so at the behest of the Gulen movement. Journalists accused of publicizing the corruption allegations also faced criminal charges.

In October 2019 the Constitutional Court overturned a broadcast and publication ban on 2013 reports regarding corruption involving former ministers (four resigned at the time). As of year’s end, RTUK had yet to remove the ban on the reports, despite the court’s ruling.

Courts and the Radio Television Supreme Council (RTUK) regularly blocked access to press reports regarding corruption allegations. In an October social media post, RTUK threatened taking legal action against media coverage of a Court of Accounts audit report that found that RTUK employees inflated salary payments and travel expenses in 2019.

Corruption: Press covered allegations that former administrators of the parliamentary Staff and Pensioners Savings and Aid Fund misappropriated seven million lira (approximately $886,000) between 2018 and 2019. In August the Parliamentary Disciplinary Board reprimanded the former board chairman and removed other staff from civil servant duties.

Press also widely covered an August limited tender for a railway line, alleging that a company associated with the ruling AKP, Kalyon Group, won the tender and received a significant tax exemption in a nontransparent fashion. Commentators observed that, based on public procurement law, the tender should have been open to all companies, not a select few, since no emergency existed to justify a limited tender process.

In June the CHP filed a criminal complaint against the former mayor of Serik in Antalya province alleging that he accepted a 500,000-lira bribe ($63,300) from tourism industry businessmen. Authorities had not launched an investigation at year’s end. Press first covered the bribery report allegations after the existing AKP mayor of Serik stated he learned that his MHP predecessor accepted a bribe in a meeting with the foreign minister and minister of tourism, but no investigation was launched.

In August 2019 the Istanbul General Prosecutor’s Office opened a case against three journalists from the newspaper Diken and the general manager of the online newspaper T24, both independent media outlets, for “aiding a terrorist organization” in relation to their reporting based on tweets by an anonymous Twitter account (Fuat Avni) in 2014-15. The Twitter account alleged corruption in the ruling AKP. In July courts acquitted the T24 journalists and in September the Diken journalists.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain high-level government officials to provide a full financial disclosure, including a list of physical property, every five years. Officials generally complied with this requirement. The Presidency State Inspection Board is responsible for investigating major corruption cases. Nearly every state agency had its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. Parliament, with the support of a simple majority, may establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning the president, vice president(s), and ministers. The mechanism was not used during the year. A parliamentary super majority (400 deputies) may vote to send corruption-related cases to the Constitutional Court for further action.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A limited number of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country, although many faced continued pressure from the government during the year. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations. Human rights groups reported the government was sometimes unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights abuses occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, and harassment, and their organizations faced closure orders for their activities. For example, in December 2019 the Ministry of the Interior closed and fined the Hatay-based women’s NGO Purple Association for Women’s Solidarity for establishing an unauthorized workplace and conducting unauthorized training. In July after seven months of closure, the association reopened. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations.

The HRA reported that its members have collectively faced a total of more than 5,000 legal cases since the group’s establishment and more than 300 legal cases continuing at year’s end. These cases were mostly related to terror and insult charges. The HRA also reported that executives of their provincial branches were in prison. Others faced continued threats of police detention and arrest. For example, police detained HRA’s Istanbul branch president, Gulseren Yoleri, in February as part of an investigation into her 2019 remarks denouncing the country’s military intervention in Syria. In June prosecutors launched a new antiterrorism investigation into human rights lawyer and HRA cochair Eren Keskin. The same month, Keskin’s home was broken into. The HRA assessed the break-in was meant to intimidate Keskin since nothing was stolen. Keskin has faced 143 separate lawsuits and stood trial in several cases against 23 journalists of the daily newspaper Ozgur Gundem closed after the 2016 coup attempt. Keskin was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for insulting the president and state institutions in 2018 and to three-and-a-half years on terrorism charges in 2019 for her work on the paper where she was editor in chief. Keskin was free pending appeal at year’s end.

The harassment, detention, and arrest of many leaders and members of human rights organizations resulted in some organizations closing offices and curtailing activities and some human rights defenders self-censoring.

Some international and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty renewing their official registrations with the government, obtaining program approvals, and obtaining residency permits for their staff. Some noted the government’s documentation requirements were unclear.

The country participated in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which concluded in September.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Institution and the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI) serve as the government’s human rights monitoring bodies. The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament as a complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues, although dismissals under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees do not fall within its purview. The Ombudsman Institution’s mandate extends only to complaints relating to public administration. NHREI reviews cases outside of the Ombudsman Institution’s mandate. Independent observers assess that both of the institutions were not financially or operationally independent and did not comply with international human rights standards as prescribed by UN conventions and other international agreements.

In 2019 the NHREI received 1,083 complaints and found violations in four cases. Of these, 273 related to torture and inhuman treatment, 243 were prison transfer requests, 193 related to health, 125 related to prison administration, and 45 to overall prison conditions.

The Ombudsman Institution received 20,968 applications for assistance in 2019, the majority of which dealt with public personnel issues. Of those 13 percent were resolved through amicable settlement.

The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures was established in 2017 to review cases and appeals related to purges and closures during the state of emergency (see section 1.e., Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies).

The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department served as the ministry’s lead entity on human rights issues, coordinating its work with the ministry’s Victims’ Rights Department. It is responsible for developing the national Human Rights Action Plan, the latest version of which was published in December 2019. Human rights groups consulted with the Ministry of Justice in the development process and noted that many provisions in the plan were not consistent with international human rights standards. Human rights groups noted the plan had not been enforced during the year.

Parliament’s Human Rights Commission functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members maintained dialogue with NGOs on human rights issues and conducted some prison visits, although activists claimed the commission’s ability to influence government action was limited.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government and independent monitoring groups reported with concern that rates of violence against women remained high although the number of femicides decreased slightly from 2019. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an NGO dedicated to monitoring violence against women since 2008, reported a record 421 femicides in 2019. The NGO estimated that men killed at least 407 women during the year. Between April 15 and May 19, the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services received a record 2,506 complaints of domestic violence following the release of 90,000 convicts from prisons as part of the country’s COVID-19 countermeasures.

The law criminalizes violence against women and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims. In one example in July, authorities found the body of Pinar Gultekin, a university student who had been missing for five days. Police alleged that a former boyfriend strangled her after an argument and placed her body in a barrel, which was then burned and filled with concrete. In October police apprehended and arrested the suspect. The brutal crime generated extensive negative media and social media coverage and led to protests in several cities. On July 22, the president issued a tweet that condemned the crime and violence against women and promised that the killer would receive the maximum punishment.

In April, Muslum Aslan beat his 11-year-old daughter to death only days after being released from prison. Authorities released Aslan, who had been arrested for stabbing his wife in the neck with scissors and had a history of abusing his children, during the COVID-19 amnesty after he had served only five months of his sentence. Police re-arrested Aslan, and he committed suicide in prison in May.

The law covers all women and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also mandates government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.

The law provides for the establishment of violence prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. There were 145 women’s shelters nationwide with capacity for 3,482 persons. As of July, 42,396 individuals, including 26,347 women and 16,049 children received services from women’s shelters. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Some NGOs noted shelters in multiple southeastern provinces closed during the 2016-18 state of emergency and COVID-19 lockdowns and that others faced difficulty following the removal of elected mayors and appointment of government trustees, some of whom cut funding and ended partnerships with the local NGOs. Lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTI women as well as for women with older children. The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). In November the Ministry of Interior stated that since its inception in 2018, the KADES app has received more than 48,686 reports and that authorities had responded to each, but it did not specify types of response. NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence and that women were at times directed to mediation centers or told to reconcile with their husbands.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Pandemic lockdowns for COVID-19 during the year coincided with increased reports of domestic violence. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for conviction of crimes such as assault, deprivation of liberty, or threats. Despite these measures, killings and other forms of violence against women continued.

The government sparked controversy across the political spectrum during the summer when some senior members of the ruling AKP called for the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which the country ratified in 2012. Critics of the convention alleged its commitment to equal implementation without discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” violated Turkish values and that the convention damaged family structures. The calls for withdrawal generated a significant domestic backlash, including from within the ruling party, and women’s rights groups organized in support of the convention. In July and August, protests against withdrawal and for improved government response in combatting violence against women took place nationwide regularly. Some protests resulted in scuffles between police and protesters. Police detained demonstrators at several of the protests, including those in Ankara and Istanbul in August. At the end of the year, the government had not taken any steps to withdraw from the convention.

Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported police rarely enforced them effectively. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.

In June, Sevtap Sahin was killed by her husband in Ankara. According to her family, Sahin had filed 60 domestic violence and restraining order violations complaints with police prior to her murder. In October, Istanbul resident Gul Gulum was killed by her husband, against whom she had obtained a restraining order. In both cases police arrested the husbands following the killings.

Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime.

For example, in July the Court of Cassation reduced the sentence for Lutfu Sefa Berberoglu, convicted of murdering his wife in 2013 after seeing her in a car with two men, from life imprisonment for murder to 15 years’ imprisonment. The court cited unjust provocation and lack of spousal loyalty as reasons for the reversal.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights activists and academics reported the practice of “honor killings” of women continued across the country. The prevalence of killings was most severe in the southeast.

Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer; however, women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws. For example, in October a man previously sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually harassing a teacher, but never arrested since an appeals court did not confirm the verdict, shot a woman who rejected his proposal of marriage.

Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened.

Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 15,842 sexual harassment cases in 2019. Courts ruled for acquittal in 17 percent of cases, in 40 percent of cases the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced, and in 25 percent of cases, courts suspended the sentence through a verdict postponement judgement. The high rate of verdict postponement contributed to perceptions of impunity for sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Cultural barriers to access of contraception exist in religiously conservative communities. According to a 2017 UN World Family Planning report, 6 percent of women between 15 and 49 years of age reported an unmet need for family planning methods. Access to family planning methods and information on managing reproductive health was more difficult for many of the four million refugees in the country. During the year the Reproductive Health Journal published a review on the sexual and reproductive health of Syrian refugee women that stated the rate of postnatal care was inadequate. The review reported a 24-percent rate of modern contraceptive method use among all age groups of Syrian girls and women, with estimated rates of unmet family planning needs at 35 percent and only 20 percent of Syrian women having regular gynecological examinations.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment.

The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers. Rights organizations contended, however, that these changes in the legal framework discouraged employers from hiring women and negatively affected their promotion potential.

Children

Birth Registration: There was universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country may not receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.

Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education and the progress made by the nationwide literacy campaign launched in 2018, some families were able to keep female students home, particularly in religiously conservative rural areas, where girls often dropped out of school after completing their mandatory primary education. The reliance on online education platforms during COVID-19 lockdowns negatively affected both boys and girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged families lacking internet access and further exacerbated learning inequalities. In March an evaluation by the think tank Education Reform Initiative following the first two weeks of distance learning noted heavy workloads for teachers, low motivation of children, and lack of access to distance learning of many students. Education organizations reported similar issues following the start of the school year in September. In November the education union Egitim Sen estimated that four million children did not have access to remote education. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute 2019 data, 96 percent of men and 86 percent of women attained primary education and 49 percent of men and 36 percent of women attained secondary education.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in its Education at a Glance 2019 report, stated the number of young adults who attained a postsecondary education had doubled in the last decade, although it noted that nearly half of them did not complete upper secondary education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported failed implementation. The law requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

By law if the victim of abuse is between ages 12 and 18, molestation results in a sentence of three to eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in a sentence of 8 to 15 years’ imprisonment, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is younger than 12, conviction of molestation results in a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, conviction of sexual abuse a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, and conviction of rape a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.

Government authorities increased attention on the problem of child abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, courts opened 28,360 legal cases related to child sexual abuse and imposed 15,651 imprisonment sentences for child sexual abuse in the country in 2019. Child rights experts reported that the increased attention on the problem had led to greater awareness and reporting. While some activists stated that sexual abuse of children spiked during COVID-19 quarantines in May, the Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Gaziantep Bar Associations reported that during the COVID-19 lockdowns, requests for legal representation for child abuse survivors dropped significantly. The bar associations cautioned that the drop may indicate an underreporting of child abuse cases and increased barriers to survivors’ accessing legal counseling.

Official statistics on child abuse and maltreatment have been unavailable since 2017, when the government stopped releasing data on the issue. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 16,348 child sex abuse cases were filed in 2017.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.

NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian community in the country. According to Ezgi Yaman, the secretary general of the NGO End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), the number of Syrian refugee families who married off their underage daughters to Turkish men as an “economic coping mechanism” increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics were unavailable because the marriages often took place unofficially. The government’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before age 15, and 38 percent married before age 18. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, in 2019, 5 percent of women between ages of 20 and 24 married before age 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among individuals in the Turkish and Syrian populations in major southeast provinces.

Women’s rights groups stated that forced marriages and bride kidnapping persisted, particularly in rural areas, although it was not as widespread as in previous years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child prostitution is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence. The government did not publish data on rates of sexual exploitation of children.

NGOs like ECPAT noted that young Syrian female refugees were particularly vulnerable to being exploited by criminal organizations and pressured into sex work, and this practice was particularly prevalent among adolescent girls.

The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.

Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns regarding anti-Semitism.

Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year and included conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. In March mainstream television channel A Haber featured an interview regarding the spread of COVID-19 where both the program guest and anchorman claimed that Israel intentionally spread the virus. Also in March a video showing bus passengers in Istanbul blaming Jews for COVID-19 circulated widely on social media. The same month unelected politician Fatih Erbakan stated in an interview that Zionists might be behind the pandemic.

In September the progovernment daily newspaper Sabah published an opinion piece criticizing the agreements on normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain that included several anti-Semitic tropes.

According to a Hrant Dink Foundation report on hate speech, in 2019 there were 676 published instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the press depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and enemies of the country.

To combat anti-Semitism, the government continued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, holding an event at Ankara University with participation of the minister of culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives, and members of the Jewish community. In February the government for the fifth year in a row commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration. As in 2019 President Erdogan issued public messages in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.

The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The president declared 2020 the “year of accessibility,” with particular focus on mass transit and building entrances. The government, however, made limited progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained restricted.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service accessibility problems for individuals with disabilities. In a September survey conducted by the Women with Disabilities Association, respondents identified lack of access to physical therapy; lack of access to medicine; closure of rehabilitation centers; and an increase in anxiety as major issues related to the pandemic.

The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.

The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education, a situation aggravated by distance learning implemented as a COVID-19 precaution. NGOs reported that public distance education programs created to enable distance learning under COVID-19 did not provide sign interpretation or subtitles for hearing impaired students. According to a March report by the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, during the 2018 school year (the latest for which data is available), 398,815 students with disabilities were in school, with 295,697 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. There were more than 14,000 teachers working in special education schools. A Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.

On December 3, the minister of family, labor, and social services announced the total number of persons with disabilities employed in the public sector was 57,000. The private sector employed around 118,000 of the two million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include in their workforce at least 3 percent employees with disabilities. The public-sector quota is 4 percent. There was no information available on the implementation of fines for accountability.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully.

More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities in rural areas throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).

Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut.

The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and four universities had Kurdish-language departments, although several instructors in these departments were among the thousands of university personnel fired under official decrees, leaving the programs unstaffed. In July the Ministry of Education also banned students from writing theses and dissertations in Kurdish, affecting students studying in Kurdish-language departments.

The law allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language; however, this right was not protected.

The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services. In March a trustee mayor of Batman province, appointed by the government after the arrest of elected HDP comayors on terrorism charges, removed Kurdish-language information from the municipality website and replaced bilingual pedestrian crossing signs. Batman Province’s population is more than 80 percent Kurdish, and the information removed included guidance on the city and the national government’s COVID-19 preparations. This raised some health concerns, as elderly Kurdish citizens in the southeast are less likely to speak Turkish. All tweets on the official Batman municipality Twitter feed, shared in both Turkish and Kurdish in an attempt to reach the community’s sizeable Kurdish-speaking population, were also deleted, including information on assistance to needy residents and efforts to mitigate economic concerns caused by COVID-19.

In May assailants stabbed and killed Baris Cakan in Ankara, allegedly because he was listening to Kurdish music in his car during the call to prayer. Police detained and later arrested three suspects for the killing.

On International Mother Language Day, February 21, members of parliament from the opposition CHP and HDP parties submitted questions to government officials in the Arabic, Zazaki, Kurmanchi, and Syriac languages. The parliament’s speaker’s office accepted only the Turkish-language submissions.

In October, Istanbul authorities banned a theater company for putting on a Kurdish-language adaptation of the Italian play Trumpets and Raspberries at an Istanbul municipal theater. Company members reported the theater was under police surveillance during stage preparations. The governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, wrote on Twitter that authorities banned the play because it contained pro-PKK propaganda and that an investigation had been opened. In November the governor of Sanliurfa province also banned the play.

Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education.

Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. Members of the Romani community also reported problems with access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in utilizing government offers to subsidize rent on apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. In June municipality workers tore down 60 tents housing approximately 300 Roma in Cesme, Izmir. The Izmir Bar Association, which visited the site, reported that Romani families were left in destitute conditions. According to community representatives, the municipality promised to deliver trailers to replace the tents but failed to do so. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, community representatives reported that Romani children living in tent cities did not have access to education. Community representatives indicated that 96 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many had jobs in the informal economy.

The government adopted a national Romani strategy in 2016 but underfunded the initiative. Romani advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also reported that Romani communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the national government did little to provide economic assistance to the communities, particularly since most Roma worked in the informal economy as garbage collectors, flower vendors, and musicians who perform at restaurants or social events. With the imposition of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social distancing precautions, many Roma found themselves cut off from their livelihoods and without access to the social safety net available to those who could apply for unemployment benefits.

In a statement marking International Romani Day on April 8, a group of 48 Romani organizations in the country asserted that continuing “deep discrimination and serious obstacles” prevented Roma from accessing services during the pandemic. Although national efforts largely missed the Romani community, some municipalities, notably Izmir, worked with Romani advocacy groups and made special efforts to deliver aid including food parcels, masks, and hygiene supplies.

Armenian minority groups reported a rise in hate speech and coded language directed against the Armenian community, including from high-level government officials. In a speech on May 4, President Erdogan stated, “We will not give in to terrorists, who are the leftovers of the sword.” Armenian groups noted “leftovers of the sword” is a term that had been used to indicate those who survived the mass deportation and massacre of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

On May 29, the widow of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007, and a Hrant Dink Foundation lawyer received death threats by email urging them to leave the country. Turkish police arrested two suspects in the case who were released from detention on September 21, pending trial.

After the outbreak of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, members of the Armenian minority reported increased anti-Armenian rhetoric, including in traditional and social media. Supporters of Azerbaijan staged car convoys featuring Azerbaijani flags in Istanbul near the Armenian Patriarchate and in districts with large Armenian populations. The Hrant Dink Foundation recorded a threefold increase in hate speech targeting Armenians in the week of September 27-October 5, citing more than 1,000 news reports and commentary featuring anti-Armenian language meeting the organization’s criteria for hate speech. On October 5, HDP MP and ethnic Armenian Turk Garo Paylan stated he had been threatened and noted that a progovernment think tank had placed newspaper ads calling him a spy for supporting Armenia. Government officials strongly condemned intimidation of ethnic Armenians and committed to protect the minority. Police increased presence in Istanbul neighborhoods with significant ethnic Armenian populations.

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

During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against LGBTI persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police rarely arrested suspects or held them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTI advocates reported that police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work to extract payoffs and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.

In June the LGBTI advocacy organization Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (KAOS-GL) released information regarding 150 self-reported attacks on LGBTI individuals in 2019. The number of reports collected via an online survey increased from 62 the previous year. According to available data, 129 attacks took place in public space, and 41 included multiple attackers. In one-half of the incidents, bystanders did not get involved, and in one-quarter, onlookers sided with the attackers. Only 26 attacks were reported to police, reportedly due to victims’ lack of confidence in effective action and fears of discrimination by police.

In July the Mersin-based LGBTI-rights NGO 7 Color Association, as part of its yearly report on LGBTI human rights abuses in the southeast, indicated that public servants perpetrated 30 percent of the 132 hate speech and discriminatory incidents against LGBTI individuals reported in the cities of Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Antep, and Antalya.

In April a transgender woman, Ajda Ender, reported she was forced to flee her residence because of death threats and physical assaults from her neighbors. Ender reported that police refused to accept her complaint and used transphobic speech when she applied for help. Ender fled to a friend’s apartment where neighbors also reacted with transphobic threats.

While the law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct, provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.

Numerous LGBTI organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. LGBTI advocates also described a “frightening” rise in hate speech of a “fundamentally different character” following controversial remarks by the president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and subsequent support for the Diyanet president from high-ranking government officials, including the president. On April 24, during a sermon to mark the beginning of Ramadan, the head of the Diyanet, Ali Erbas, said, “Islam cursed homosexuality” as ‘a great sin’ that “causes diseases and decays lineages.” Erbas also called on followers to unite to “fight this kind of evil.” Supportive segments of the populace posted on social media under the top-trending hashtag #AliErbasYalnizdegildir (Ali Erbas is not alone). Several rights groups and bar associations filed criminal complaints and criticized the remarks, drawing a strong reaction from ruling AKP officials. The Ankara Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against the Ankara Bar Association for “insulting religious values” after it condemned Erbas’ remarks in a statement. The prosecutor’s office declined to investigate the bar association’s complaint against the Diyanet.

Anti-LGBTI rhetoric also featured prominently in public debates around the country’s potential withdrawal from the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Commentators in favor of withdrawal generally pointed to the convention’s reference to equal protection for victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity as being inconsistent with Turkish values.

High-level government officials employed anti-LGBTI speech. In June the director of communications of the Presidency, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter, “LGBT propaganda poses a great threat to freedom of speech.” President Erdogan warned against “those who exhibit all kinds of perversion that our God prohibits” during a television interview the same month.

In July the Radio and Television Supreme Council refused to grant a license to a Turkish television drama featuring an LGBTI character in development by Netflix. Netflix cancelled the production.

In November the Malatya municipality cancelled the planned 10th Malatya International Film Festival after festival organizers announced they would award a “gender-neutral” best performance award instead of best actor and actress awards. The municipality stated that the term “gender-neutral” offended its values.

In December press reported that the Ministry of Trade Board of Advertisement notified Turkish online retailers via letter that companies must label LGBTI pride products featuring rainbows or other LGBTI pride symbols with an 18+ warning to protect “children’s mental, moral, psychologic, and social development.”

The criminal code does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted it was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech and assembly rather than to protect minorities. LGBTI definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTI individuals. KAOS-GL maintained that, due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities did not provide them social protection.

KAOS-GL reported that some LGBTI individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTI individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTI community. In August press reports alleged that an LGBTI individual was refused treatment at a hospital in Istanbul by the doctor on duty, who employed homophobic comments. Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, since landlords refused to rent to LGBTI individuals or charged them significantly higher prices.

During the year LGBTI groups held virtual pride month events in keeping with safe social-distancing practices due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In previous years governors banned pride marches in Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul, Izmir, Gaziantep, and Mersin, citing public safety concerns. In 2019 the Constitutional Court found that Ankara’s blanket ban on LGBTI events, in place since 2017, was illegal. In August a court in Mersin rejected a legal challenge launched by KAOS-GL to the governor’s ban on the 2019 pride march.

Some LGBTI groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups complained that rectors denied them permission to organize, and some indicated they faced administrative investigations or other sanctions for participating in events. In July an Ankara administrative court found that the ban on the 2019 pride march imposed by the rector of Middle East Technical University was unlawful. The university had not challenged the decision at year’s end. Criminal cases against the 18 students and one faculty member arrested for organizing the pride march in 2019 continued; the defendants faced up to three years in prison. The court held a hearing on December 10, but the court declined to issue a ruling and scheduled another hearing for April 2021. Organizers reported that the arrested students were ineligible for scholarship and educational loans while the case continued.

LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines.

Dating and social networking sites catering to the LGBTI community faced content blocks. In August an Ankara court imposed an access ban on the social networking site Hornet and in September on the dating site Gabile.com. Authorities have blocked the dating site and application Grindr since 2013.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Many persons with HIV and AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV and AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV and AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. Human rights advocates reported that some employers required HIV/AIDS testing prior to employment to screen positive applicants. In September the Pozitif-iz Association reported that it received 89 complaints of human rights violations in 2018-19, the majority related to health service provider discrimination. The NGO also observed that HIV-positive individuals faced systemic discrimination in the workplace.

The government launched an HIV/AIDS control program for 2019-24 to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also implemented HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolics, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. Attacks on minority places of worship, however, were rare.

According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s 2019 Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers found 5,515 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most targeted groups were Armenians, Syrians, Greeks, and Jews.

Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.

Conditional refugees and displaced Syrians under temporary protection also faced increased societal discrimination and violence during the year (see section 2.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and discourages employers for terminating workers involved in union activities. In particular the law requires employers to either reinstate a worker fired for participating in union activity or pay a fine equal to one year of the affected worker’s salary. Some public-sector employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, may not form or join unions.

The law provides some workers the right to strike. In particular public-sector workers who are responsible for safeguarding life and property as well as workers in the essential areas (coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education) do not have the right to strike. Instead, while the law allows some essential workers to bargain collectively, the law requires the workers to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.

A 2014 the Constitutional Court ruling that bankers and municipal transport workers have the right to strike remains in force. The law further allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation that represents a threat to public health or national security. On October 9, the government issued an executive order prohibiting workers at the multinational glass manufacturer Sisecam in Mersin from striking, noting the strike would disrupt general public health and security.

The government also maintains a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires labor unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must occur in officially designated areas, and allows government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings.

The law requires a minimum of seven workers to establish a union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the worksite employees and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. The law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties. The law also prohibits union leaders from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. As of March, 67 percent of public-sector employees and 14 percent of private-sector employees were unionized. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, are not covered by collective bargaining laws.

The government did not enforce laws related to collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances (e.g., penalties were not consistently commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights). Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although as with other courts, the appeals process could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate the individual, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.

The 19 unions and confederations shut down under the 2016-18 state of emergency, at times due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement, remained closed.

The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. According to the most recent information available from the government, as of May 2019, the rate of security force interference in labor union marches and demonstrations was 0.8 percent, below the 2 percent rate of intervention in 2016. Police frequently attended union meetings and conventions. In addition some unions reported that local authorities prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences.

Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights.

The government instituted a ban on lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis that in some cases resulted in the employees being compelled to take leave without pay or earn less than minimum wage. Some companies instituted COVID-19 precautions, including prohibiting workers from leaving and returning to a worksite for extended periods of time. In April workers at a Cengiz Holding construction site of a railway in Diyarbakir staged a protest after reportedly being prohibited from leaving the worksite for more than 15 days and compelled to work 14-hour days during the outbreak.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).

Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to labor trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. The government did not release data on the number of arrests and convictions related to trafficking.

The government implemented a work permit system for registered Syrian adults with special temporary protected status; however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under special temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from age 14 and establishes 16 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws but made efforts to address the problem. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises that employed 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.

Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, fostered in part by large numbers of Syrian refugees and the pandemic driving more family members to seek employment. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem remained unclear, according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees with temporary protection status, but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, in 2019, a total of 27 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation and views. Penalties were not consistently commensurate with those for other civil rights violations.

Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, the employment rate for women in 2019 was 34 percent (an increase from 28 percent in 2016), corresponding to 10.7 million women, compared with 72 percent employment for men. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published in December 2019 recorded that 37.5 percent of women participated in the labor force, compared with 36.1 percent in 2018. Research by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Center concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected women’s labor force participation.

For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.

LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. Employment laws allow the dismissal of public-sector employees found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant,” while some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” KAOS-GL and other human rights organizations noted that some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services’ Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for similar crimes.

OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,488 workplace deaths during the first nine months of the year. These figures included COVID-19-related deaths. In many sectors workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. Overall, numbers of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. Inspectors were able to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction. A majority of conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection were working informally, as employers found too burdensome the application process for work permits (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.

The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. This included existing and retired officials from the politburo, central party, military, and public security services.

Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.

The Ministry of Public Security reported it processed 123 corruption cases in the first six months of the year. Media outlets reported that in the first six months of the year, the CPV punished 186 party members for corruption. Among those punished were former ministers, former deputy ministers, and provincial leaders.

On September 20, the people’s court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced retired vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, Nguyen Thanh Tai, to eight years in prison for “violating regulations on management and use of state assets” for allowing a group of investors to acquire a state-owned land lot in 2007 without a proper bidding process.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all state officials, commissioned officers of police and military forces, career military personnel, holders of positions as deputy manager and above in public service agencies and state-owned enterprises, and state enterprise financial management officers to disclose to their agency their income and assets within 10 days from the date of designation or employment. Any change of 300 million dong ($15,000) or greater requires an additional declaration. Directors of provincial departments and higher ranks or persons in charge of official management, management of public funds, public property or public investment, or who have influence over the operation of other entities as prescribed by the government are required to submit annual disclosures; nominees to be National Assembly and people’s councils’ delegates are required to do so in line with the voting law. The law provides for reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly. Some activists reported receiving death threats from plainclothes individuals they believed were associated with the government. The United Nations received reports of reprisals against human rights activists from Vietnam who participated in international fora, including Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in 2019.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

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. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim 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 November 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis 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 about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.

In serious cases victims may sue offenders outside the workplace 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: The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; to access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and check-ups during pregnancy; and to obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.

The law states that couples or individuals have the right to give birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing most citizens who have more children than the stipulated number, although regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.

The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applying 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.

The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. No legal provision punishes citizens who have more than two children.

The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

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 from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far from the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the issue of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two female children a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $56). In some provinces women enjoy preferences in such areas as education, vocational training, and starting a business.

Children

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

Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless 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, and local authorities 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 also 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.

Gender gaps in education declined, but certain 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 discriminatory 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 was 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. UNICEF stated in July 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 marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children younger than 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (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 law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.

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 victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, 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 rapists received harsh sentences.

Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children lived on the streets 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.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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, the majority of 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.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination was longstanding and persistent. Local officials in some provinces, notably in the highlands, discriminated against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite the country’s significant economic growth, the economic gap between many ethnic minority communities and ethnic majority communities persisted. 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.

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. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket village, Dak Ngo commune, Tuy Duc District, and Dak Nong Province, continue to deny registration to more than 1,000 H’mong Christians who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO. As a result, school officials did not allow the H’mong children to attend school.

Some members of these groups fled to Cambodia and Thailand, seeking refugee status as victims of oppression; the government claimed these individuals were illegal migrants who left the country in pursuit of economic opportunities. Human rights groups stated the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to deny these individuals refugee or temporary asylum seeker status and to return them to Vietnam.

Authorities 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. In addition, activists often reported an increased presence of Ministry of Public Security agents on historically significant days and holidays in regions inhabited by ethnoreligious minorities.

Government programs meant to address the socioeconomic gap between ethnic minorities and the majority community continued, and the government also continued to allocate land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, although land expropriation in these areas was also common.

The government worked with local education officials to develop local-language curricula. Implementation was more comprehensive in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta than in the Northwest Highlands. The government also subsidized several technical and vocational schools for ethnic minorities.

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.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Individuals with HIV continued to face discrimination when obtaining 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 health services, although such treatment is considered a basic right of such patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answers directly to the VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The labor code adopted in November 2019 and coming into force in January 2021 allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing that does not have to be affiliated with VGCL. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.

The law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members, but are appointed.

The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.

For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union.” If nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The law prohibits strikes at the sector or industry level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.

The law provides for the right of trade unions to organize and lead strikes with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level peoples committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.

The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.

The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in worker organization activities and impose administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating or interfering in union activity.

The labor code, adopted in 2019 and set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes provisions for collective bargaining.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. There were no penalties for antiunion activities. There was no enforcement against workers for illegal strikes.

According to VGCL statistics as reported in state media, there were 121 wildcat strikes in 2019 and 91 wildcat strikes in the first half of 2020; most occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes were in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially foreign-owned companies, which engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant issue in apparel and footwear factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, establishes that a minor worker is a worker younger than age 18. It states a worker older than age 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from age 13 up to 15 may perform light jobs from a list from the Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents. The constitution prohibits child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, production of garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.

In the garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.

International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.

No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.

The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes a definition of sexual harassment and assigns employer responsibility for its prevention. Employers must implement regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace and include it as possible grounds for dismissal.

The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.

Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions. Under the new labor code beginning in 2021, the retirement ages of employees in normal working conditions shall be 60 years and three months for men, and 55 years and four months for women, and shall increase by three months for men and four months for women each consecutive year.

Women-led enterprises had limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers. Many women older than 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at the age of 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for approximately one-half of all unemployed workers in the country. Legal restrictions exist against women in certain occupations and tasks, including jobs deemed “hazardous” in industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.

Social barriers and the limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.

The law provides for a 48-hour regular workweek, with overtime payment for additional hours worked. The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, limits overtime to 40 hours per month, an increase from 30 hour per month. The new code limits overtime to 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.

The new labor code broadens the definition of “employment relationship” so that a legally valid employment relationship exists where two parties agree to a document that includes a description of the job, salary, management, and supervision conditions. The code creates the possibility that where a contract with an “independent contractor,” “service provider,” “freelancer,” or other informal agreement between two or more parties contains employment-like terms, it may be recognized as a formal labor contract. The new labor code also limits the repeated use of limited-term contracts. The law extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training in response to labor law violations. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. Penalties for wage and hour and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated many apparel and footwear factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to enforce monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contributed to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.

On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. Work-related injuries and deaths remained at approximately the same level in 2019 (most recent data) and 2018. In 2019 the government reported 8,150 occupational accidents with 8,327 victims, including 927 fatal incidents with 979 deaths. Among the deaths, 610 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 369 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.