Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The penalty for rape is a minimum of 10 years’ forced labor. In the case of gang rape, the maximum penalty is lifelong forced labor. The crimes were rarely formally prosecuted and were often settled under pressure from community and religious leaders. The law excuses a husband who kills his wife, her partner, or both if found engaging in adultery in the husband’s home, but a wife who kills her husband under similar circumstances is subject to prosecution.
The law does not classify domestic violence against adults as a distinct crime. Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations reported domestic violence against women remained commonplace. Judges often released suspects arrested for domestic violence and rape.
Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence faced major obstacles in seeking legal justice as well as in accessing protective services such as women’s shelters. While civil society organizations reported anecdotally that women were more likely to report cases of sexual and domestic violence than in the past, these organizations stated many victims did not report such cases due to social pressure, fear, and a lack of logistical and financial resources. Due to familial responsibilities, victims were usually unable to dedicate the time necessary to follow through with legal proceedings. According to some civil society organizations, many local nonprofit organizations that provided shelter, medical services, psychological services, and legal assistance to victims had to reduce services due to a lack of funding. In rural areas, criminal cases, including cases of sexual violence, were often settled outside of the justice system. In some cases local leaders pressured family members to come to financial settlements with the accused to avoid societal discord and embarrassment. According to judicial observers, prosecutors often encouraged such settlements.
Sexual assault and rape continued to be serious and pervasive societal problems, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged areas. According to the RNDDH, 20 women were victims of rape in Cite-Soleil between March and July. In another case where gang rape was reported, the victim said her three attackers claimed to be part of the G-9 gang confederation. As of November there were no arrests in these cases.
Authorities stated that 10 women who were sexually assaulted by male inmates during a November 2019 prison riot in Gonaives were subsequently transferred to other facilities for their safety. Authorities declared the culprits had been identified and remained imprisoned.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although it states that men and women have the same rights and obligations. Observers stated sexual harassment occurred frequently. Although authorities stated the government was opposed to sexual harassment, there were no formal governmental programs to combat it on a national scale.
Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the rights of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; however, regulations, social customs, and economic disparity often made these rights unattainable.
While stigma around seeking or accessing contraception significantly decreased over the past decade and women were far more knowledgeable about contraception, social and economic barriers remained. Cultural and historical barriers persisted in the use of IUDs and contraception more generally, particularly cultural misconceptions and lack of knowledge of proper usage.
The country’s level of unmet need for family planning was 38 percent, and the use of modern contraception was 34 percent. Approximately one-fifth of women of reproductive age used a modern contraceptive method, while more than one-third of married women who wanted to limit or space births did not use any contraceptive method, according to the 2016-17 Demographic and Health Studies (DHS) Report.
Many women and their families maintained a strong preference for giving birth at home with the assistance of matrones (traditional birth attendants) as opposed to giving birth in health facilities with the assistance of skilled birth attendants. The choice may be rooted in a desire for client-centered care–particularly for respectful maternity care–which was otherwise largely unavailable. The government did not allow state institutions to work openly with matrones, a practice that prevented them from acquiring the skills needed to serve as highly skilled birth attendants.
The government has protocols governing the provision of service to survivors of sexual violence. The Ministry of Public Health was responsible for maintaining these protocols and practices; however, donors and NGO partners provided nearly all such care.
The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality rate at 480 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. The government’s estimate for 2016-17, based on maternal deaths reported by health facilities, was 175 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. A major cause of maternal deaths was the government’s lack of support for matrones. Other reasons included geographic difficulties in access to health facilities and financial barriers to primary health care. Of the country’s 571 communal sections, 125 had no health facilities. The proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel was 42 percent. The adolescent birth rate for those ages 15-19 years was 140 per 1,000.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women did not enjoy the same social and economic status as men, despite constitutional amendments requiring that women’s participation in national life and in public service (i.e., political candidates, elected officials, and civil servants) be at least 30 percent of the positions.
By law men and women have equal protections for economic participation. Women, however, faced barriers to accessing economic inputs, collateral for credit, information on lending programs, and other resources. Gender discrimination was a major concern. Women were often restricted to certain jobs, such as secretarial or cleaning work, and they faced lower pay as well as barriers when attempting to compete for hiring or promotions on an equal footing with men. Women were largely viewed as more vulnerable to coercive and exploitive practices in the workplace, such as sexual harassment.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through an individual’s parents; either parent may transmit citizenship. Citizenship may also be acquired through a formal request to the Ministry of the Interior. The government did not register all births immediately. Birth registry is free until age two. Approximately 30 percent of children between the ages of one and five lacked birth certificates or any other official documentation. Children born in rural communities were less likely to be documented than children in urban areas.
Education: The constitution was generally interpreted as requiring the government to provide free and compulsory education to all children through grade nine; nonetheless, the government did not effectively enforce this. According to a 2018 report published by the Ministry of Health, in urban areas 65 percent of girls attended school, compared with 58 percent of boys.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits domestic violence against minors. The government lacked an adequate legal framework to support or enforce mechanisms to promote children’s rights and welfare fully. The government made some progress in institutionalizing protections for children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for males and 15 for females. Early and forced marriage were not widespread customs. Plasaj, or common-law marriage, was common and sometimes used by older men to enter into relationships with underage girls.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and the law has special provisions for rape of persons who are age 16 or younger. The law prohibits the corruption of persons younger than 21, including through prostitution, with penalties ranging from six months to three years’ imprisonment for offenders. The penalty for human trafficking with aggravating circumstances, which includes cases involving the exploitation of children, is up to life imprisonment.
In May the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) suspended Haitian soccer federation president Yves Jean-Bart for 90 days after allegations that he sexually assaulted multiple youth soccer players. Two other top officials, Wilner Etienne and Nela Joseph, were subsequently suspended in August. In November, FIFA’s ethics committee imposed a lifetime ban and a fine of more than one million Swiss francs ($1.1 million) on Yves Jean-Bart. He had not yet been charged with a crime in Haiti.
In October reports emerged that at least 41 girls between ages 13 and 17 at La Prophetie College in Grand-Anse Department became pregnant after sexual abuse. Most of the abusers were reported to be male classmates, but there were also reports of sexual abuse by community members.
Several civil society groups reported impoverished children were often subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to these groups, children were often forced into prostitution or transactional sex to fund basic needs such as school-related expenses. Recruitment of children for sexual exploitation and pornography is illegal, but the United Nations reported criminal gangs recruited children as young as age 10.
Institutionalized Children: The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) has official responsibility for monitoring and accrediting the country’s orphanages and residential care centers. According to the international NGO Lumos, an estimated 25,000 children lived in the 756 orphanages in the country, of which 45 were licensed by the government. An estimated 80 percent of those children had at least one living parent.
On February 13, a total of 15 children died after fire engulfed an unaccredited orphanage in Fermathe, a community one hour north of Port-au-Prince, which had previously failed multiple inspections. In July lawyers working on behalf of the orphanage offered cash payments to family members of the victims to settle the case.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution stipulates that persons with disabilities should have the means to provide for their education and independence. The law requires all public buildings and spaces to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities, requires the government to integrate such persons into the state’s public services, and imposes a 2 percent quota for persons with disabilities in the workforces of private-sector companies. This quota was not met, and the government did not enforce these legal protections. The law bans discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides for access to basic services such as health, education, and justice.
Local disability rights advocates stated that persons with disabilities faced significant obstacles to voting. Persons with disabilities had difficulty obtaining a national identification card, a requirement to vote, because the National Identification Office was inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities faced significant social stigma, exclusion, and discrimination because of their disabilities. For instance some families often left their family members with disabilities isolated at home. Basic services such as government offices, churches, and schools did not routinely make accessible services available for persons with disabilities. Opportunities to access services often depended on the economic status of the family. Persons with mental, developmental, or physical disabilities were marginalized and neglected. Deaf and blind citizens also faced marginalization and neglect and did not routinely receive services they needed. The Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Handicapped Persons (BSEIPH) in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is the lead government agency responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and ensuring their civil, political, and social inclusion.
While some children with disabilities were mainstreamed into regular schools, mainstreaming depended on the severity of the disability and the economic status of the family. A small number of schools provided specialized education for children whose disabilities did not allow them to be mainstreamed. According to the most recent national education plan, covering 2010 to 2015, fewer than 14 percent of children with disabilities attended school. Children of economically disadvantaged families were often left to languish uneducated at home.
The BSEIPH had several departmental offices outside the capital. Its efforts were constrained by a limited budget, and there was little progress toward creating a strategic development plan. The BSEIPH provided persons with disabilities with legal advice and job-counseling services. It regularly convened meetings with disability rights groups in all its regional offices. The BSEIPH worked to better integrate persons with disabilities in society, including by encouraging their employment in public institutions.
President Moise named Soinette Desir, a former activist for persons with disabilities, as the new BSEIPH undersecretary. On June 12, Desir distributed materials and equipment to new public-sector employees with disabilities, intending to facilitate their success in the workplace.
Some disability rights activists said social services available to persons with disabilities were inadequate and that persons with disabilities had significant difficulties accessing quality medical care. Hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince were not accessible to persons with disabilities and often refused to treat them.
There were reports police condoned violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Some LGBTI groups reported the HNP and judicial authorities were inconsistent in their willingness to document or investigate LGBTI persons’ claims of abuse. On July 1, a transgender woman was attacked by motorcycle taxi drivers in the street. Activist groups reported that part of the attack was recorded, but even so, police declined to investigate when they learned the victim was a transgender person.
No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government’s legal reforms announced in June, and scheduled to enter into force in 2022, offer specific protections to LGBTI persons for the first time. The proposed changes include making LGBTI persons a protected group and imposing penalties on public agents, persons, and institutions that refuse services on the grounds of someone’s sexual orientation. The reforms prompted intense national debate and protests led by local religious leaders. LGBTI activists reported increased hostility towards LGBTI persons as a result and said they had not been consulted about the reforms. Many, however, said they were pleased by the new protections and viewed the reforms as an opportunity to stimulate national dialogue.
In July a mob threw stones and shot at a transgender shelter, activists reported. A new crisis telephone line for the LGBTI community reported 20-30 calls per day after its establishment in July, with most callers expressing fear about hostility surrounding the proposed legal reforms.
Local attitudes, particularly in Port-au-Prince, remained hostile toward LGBTI persons who were public and visible about their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Some politicians, societal leaders, and organizations actively opposed the social integration of LGBTI persons and discussion of their rights. LGBTI advocacy groups in Port-au-Prince reported a greater sense of insecurity and less trust of government authorities than did groups in rural areas.
The investigation into the November 2019 death of Charlot Jeudy, head of the LGBTI rights group KOURAJ, remained open as of November.
Stigma against persons with HIV or AIDS was strong and widespread. In 2019 UNAIDS reported 63 percent of adults in the country said they would not purchase vegetables from a seller known to be HIV-positive, while 55 percent believed students with HIV should not attend school.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Male rape is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) reported fear of rape was one of the most prominent reasons Syrians fled the country. The COI reported rape and sexual violence continued to play a prominent role in the conflict and was used to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition. Regime officials in the intelligence and security services perpetrated sexual and gender-based violence with impunity, according to a February report by the Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. Victims often feared reporting rape and sexual abuse, according to TIMEP, due to the stigma associated with their victimization. HRW reported in July that gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and nonbinary individuals were targeted for sexual violence.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a February report by the Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence, violence against women and children was pervasive and increased due to the conflict. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. In August UNFPA reported an increase in domestic violence cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hassia industrial camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Majar farms, and Shamsin. UNFPA and local human rights groups reported women and children were at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as early marriage, child labor, and other forms of exploitation largely due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.
The COI reported in September that armed groups under the SNA detained women and girls, particularly those of Kurdish descent, and subjected them to rape and sexual violence–causing severe physical and psychological harm at the individual level, as well as at the community level, owing to stigma and cultural norms related to “female honor.” On two occasions, in an apparent effort to humiliate, extract confessions and instill fear within male detainees, SNA Military Police officers reportedly forced male detainees to witness the rape of a minor. On the first day, the minor was threatened with being raped in front of the men, but the rape did not proceed. The following day, the same minor was gang-raped, as the male detainees were beaten and forced to watch.
In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women. These programs were not available throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. Reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased following the onset of the crisis in 2011. According to a July HRW report, members of the LGBTI community faced death threats from family members when they learned about their sexual orientation and feared being subjected to honor crimes. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by regime forces, for reasons of honor.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. TIMEP reported that women who were widowed, divorced, or separated from their husbands frequently faced sexual harassment from their employers and landlords.
Reproductive Rights: UNOCHA reported that more than a quarter of surveyed health workers in the country stated that organized family planning services were not available in their communities.
Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care and reproductive services both costly and dangerous, and the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) reported that the government and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. Physicians for Human Rights documented that attacks on humanitarian actors by the Syrian and Russian governments and, to a lesser degree, armed groups caused medical providers to operate in secret or, in some cases, to leave the country.
UNOCHA reported in 2019 that the majority of Syrian women in regime-held areas were delivering in hospitals, with the exception of women in Quneitra governorate, who reported delivering from home with the aid of a skilled birth assistant. Activists also reported that regime detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth. Attacks on hospitals affected pregnant women, who were frequently unable to access care, and during the year observers reported to the UN Human Rights Council that hostilities forced an increasing number of women to give birth through caesarean sections to control the timing of their delivery and avoid traveling in insecure environments.
Many pregnant women living in IDP camps in Idlib governorate and camps such as al-Hol and Rukban lacked access to hospitals or to doctors or skilled birth assistants. Humanitarian health partners supported approximately one-third of the nearly 1,600 daily deliveries in the country; of these supported deliveries, approximately one-half involved a caesarean section.
Women and girls subjected to sexual violence lacked access to immediate health care, particularly in regime detention facilities where reports of sexual violence continued to be prevalent, and authorities often denied medical care to prisoners. Health providers and community representatives emphasized that female survivors of rape faced limited availability of clinical management throughout the country.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of involuntary sterilization, but OCHA reported in July an increase in coerced abortions in northwest Syria in response to increasing psychosocial stress, poverty, and lack of employment opportunities, compounded by the effects of COVID-19. Former detainees also reported cases of the regime forcing women in regime detention to have abortions.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.
The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.
The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor share responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.
Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported the conflict, and more recently COVID-19, reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.
The HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories it controlled. For example, the International Center for the Study of Radicalism reported in September 2019 that the HTS forced women and girls into marriage, imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, required that women and girls be accompanied by a mahram or male member of their immediate family, forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband, forbade widows from living alone, and instructed that classrooms be segregated. The HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah (religious police force) in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment, such as lashing, to execution.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities often did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.
Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.
Combatants on all sides of the conflict attacked or commandeered schools. The COI reported that repeated attacks on schools, the repurposing of education facilities for military purposes, and the killing and displacement of qualified teachers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on girls, as well as children displaced from their homes and those with disabilities. Approximately 2.1 million children were out of school (among more than 2.6 million internally displaced Syrian children, including refugees and others in the diaspora); another 1.3 million were at risk for leaving school. In October, UNICEF reported 4.7 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.
The COI reported the regime allegedly refused to acknowledge school certificates provided by students in grades nine and above, forcing thousands of students to retake exams to enroll in public schools.
The HTS reportedly imposed its interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.). The group imposed dress codes on female teachers and pupils, according to the COI, and the STJ reported in April the HTS threatened any woman who failed to abide by the dress code with dismissal. The COI also reported the HTS prevented large numbers of girls from attending school. The COI reported access to education in al-Hol IDP camp remained insufficient.
The SDF ended the use of 12 schools previously converted for military purposes, handing them over to local councils to increase children’s access to education. In areas previously liberated by the SDF from ISIS, more than 526,250 students returned to classes in 741 refurbished buildings and schools previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning. The SDF reportedly imposed penalties on SDF and school administration staff members who enrolled their children in schools that did not use their curriculum.
Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. In January the COI reported children, especially girls, were acutely vulnerable to violence and were victims of a broad array of abuses.
NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as the HTS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). The HTS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories it controlled. The regime did not take steps to combat child abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties’ consent. STJ reported early and forced marriages were increasingly prevalent, particularly in Idlib. According to World Vision International reporting in July, children were increasingly vulnerable to early and forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families by the conflict, challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 and societal pressures. In August UNFPA reported an increase in early marriage cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hassia industrial camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Majar farms, and Shamsin.
Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.
There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.
In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g.). The Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS and fear. In July, Amnesty International reported the stance of the Yezidi Supreme Spiritual Council and the legal framework of Iraq, which mandates that any child of a Muslim or “unknown” father be registered as Muslim, effectively denied Yezidi children born under ISIS a place within the Yezidi community and presented another barrier to Yezidi women’s return to their home communities.
From 2014 onwards ISIS began forcibly to marry women and girls living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between the ages of 12 and 16 were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. The STJ reported that early and forced marriages were prevalent in areas under HTS control, and Syrians often failed to register their marriages officially due to fear of detention or conscription at regime checkpoints. In September the COI reported cases of SNA members in the Sultan Murad Brigade forcibly marrying Kurdish women in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced “prostitution,” both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” There were no known prosecutions for child pornography.
The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.
A July report by OCHA on northwest Syria described significant increases in reports of families marrying off their daughters repeatedly for short periods of time in exchange for money, which constitutes sex trafficking.
Displaced Children: The population of IDP children increased for the ninth consecutive year due to the conflict, and a limited number of refugee children continued to live in the country. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
In June the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported there were no known Jews still living in Syria. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage and the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives reported in May the condition of 62 percent of Jewish built heritage sites in Syria was poor, very bad, or beyond repair. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
While the law provides some protections for persons with disabilities, the regime did not make serious attempts to enforce applicable laws effectively during the year. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.
The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. HRW reported COVID-19 made it increasingly difficult for persons with disabilities to receive medical care. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November 2019 report, UNFPA detailed how both public and private spaces–including educational institutions, health-care services, and religious or cultural buildings–were inaccessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities, leading to further ostracism and deprivation. The European Asylum Support Office reported in February that access to facilities and support for persons with disabilities remained limited in Damascus and often nonexistent in other areas of the country. UNFPA further stated that persons with disabilities were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person. The COI’s July report noted the challenges facing persons with disabilities when attempting to flee conflict.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as regime-sponsored violence. In July the COI reported instances of the regime torturing, beating, and denying food and water to Kurdish civilians, at times interrogating them about their faith and ethnicity. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed SNA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.). The COI reported a consistent, discernible pattern of abuses by SNA forces against Kurdish residents in Afrin and Ras al-Ayn, including “[c]ases of detentions, killings, beatings, and abductions, in addition to widespread looting and appropriation of civilian homes.”
The regime continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals. The Alawite community, to which President Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.
The September COI report stated that women belonging to the Yezidi religious minority were detained and urged to convert to Islam during interrogation. The HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories it controlled, and ISIS members continued to target ethnic and religious minorities in attacks (see section 1.g.).
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTI individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but the ARC Foundation and the Dutch Council for Refugees reported in June that LGBTI individuals believed they were not able to seek protection from the regime. NGO reports indicated the regime had arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. In July, HRW reported LGBTI persons were subject to “increased and intensified violence based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The sexual violence described included rape, sexual harassment, genital violence, threat of rape of themselves or female family members, and forced nudity by state and nonstate armed groups. This violence took place in various settings, including regime detention centers, checkpoints, central prisons, and within the ranks of the national army.”
Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.
The HTS reportedly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). HRW reported instances of blackmail and harassment targeting the LGBTI community, many involving men who were perceived as gay.
There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported, and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The UNDP assessed COVID-19 presented barriers access to HIV testing and treatment. HRW reported in April that, due to restrictions on aid delivery to northeast Syria, Kurdish authorities repurposed test kits designed for HIV and polio to respond to the lack of available COVID-19 testing kits.
Yezidis, Druze, Christians, Shia, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS, the HTS, the SNA, and other groups (see section 1.g.).