Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape, and the government generally enforced the law. Spousal rape is not a separate crime from rape, but it is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” According to the Ministry of Justice, however, there has never been a spousal rape case prosecuted in the country. Criminal penalties for rape range from four years to life imprisonment, depending on the nature of the crime, the age of the victim, the criminal history of the offender, and the dependence of the victim on the offender. Through June prosecutors brought 43 rape charges. In 14 cases, the victims were younger than 16. When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation.
According to a 2014 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the most recent such survey available, 32 percent of women in the country had experienced physical or sexual violence committed by their partners. Domestic violence is 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. Domestic violence remained a matter of concern and authorities prosecuted a number of cases. The NGO Marta Resource Center for Women (Marta Center) received complaints from 245 women during the first nine months of the year.
The law allows victims of domestic violence to request police officers to issue restraining orders and requires police and judges to respond to such requests within one business day. The law requires perpetrators to leave the home where the victim resides. It provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence and empowers courts to remove vulnerable and abused children from violent homes if parents or guardians cannot do so or are themselves perpetrators of the violence.
In the first nine months of the year, courts issued 602 temporary protection orders; in the first six months of the year, police issued 42 restraining orders and authorities initiated 33 criminal proceedings for violations of restraining orders. NGOs complained that, in some domestic violence cases, police were reluctant to act. In some instances police were unable to locate the alleged perpetrator. There were occasions when police asked victims themselves to locate and notify alleged assailants of the restraining orders. In other cases, police hesitated to evict alleged perpetrators despite restraining orders. NGOs also criticized police for not arresting perpetrators until the victim signed paperwork, even if officers witnessed abuse. According to the Marta Center, courts rejected two applications for restraining orders during the year.
No government shelters were designated specifically for battered and abused women. Survivors of violence sought help in family crisis centers, which had limited capacity. There was one state-funded victim support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; none was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault. NGOs operated websites that provided information and legal assistance to female survivors of violence. As of August, the Marta Center had provided legal assistance and consultations to 85 women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is prohibited by the labor law but was reportedly common in the workplace. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. As in 2015 the ombudsman received no complaints of sexual harassment, while the Marta Center received one. NGOs reported that police procedures and methods intimidated some women, and some lacked confidence in the ability of law enforcement authorities to prosecute perpetrators successfully. Cultural factors also discouraged women from filing sexual harassment complaints.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance law. The law prohibits employment discrimination. There were reports of discrimination against women in employment and pay (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, and only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. Children born in the country to one citizen and one noncitizen parent are citizens at birth.
Children born in the country to resident noncitizen parents are eligible for citizenship provided one parent requests it when the birth is registered. According to the government, 99 percent of such newborns received automatic citizenship during the year. The total number of noncitizen children decreased by 10 percent compared to 2015. In July, there were 6,301 noncitizen children, including 4,816 children younger than age 15.
Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. The law provides definitions of physical and emotional violence against a child. Statutory rape is punishable by a minimum of four years to life imprisonment. State police can initiate proceedings against a sexual abuser without receiving a complaint if the victim is younger than 16. Police effectively enforced laws against child abuse, although NGOs observed that coordination among agencies involved in the protection of children’s rights was weak.
In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights organized four nationwide hotline campaigns. They received 27,086 calls and provided 12,934 consultations in response to inquiries about cases of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of children. Approximately 86 of the calls involved the sexual abuse of children, 549 dealt with physical violence, and 1,118 concerned emotional violence (the remaining calls involved psychological consultations). During the first nine months of the year, the inspectorate investigated 135 cases of alleged violations of children’s rights.
In 2015 NGOs and other observers criticized light sentences handed down in some child abuse cases. For example, in 2015 a court sentenced two men to community service for having “led a minor to depravity.” During the year the Kurzeme Regional Court reversed the verdict, based on a finding that certain regulations were not followed, and returned the case to the Liepaja City Court, where the criminal case was reopened and remained under investigation.
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 laws prohibit the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the laws.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. 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.
Institutionalized Children: The ombudsman and several NGOs raised concerns about the continued use of orphanages despite the provision in the law providing that “every child has the inalienable right to grow up in a family.” During the year 1,460 children remained in orphanages, compared with 1,589 in 2015. The government has a deinstitutionalization plan for these children. NGOs, however, criticized the plan for being unclear and not specifying how or when it would be implemented. Nearly 6,200 children lived in foster families or other family environments such as group homes.
In the first nine months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights reported 13 cases of peer-on-peer physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in government-run orphanages and boarding schools for children with special needs. The inspectorate believed the actual figure was much higher, but cases were underreported due to infrequent visits by social workers and limited opportunities for observation.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Central Statistical Bureau and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs reported that there were 8,659 Jewish residents in the country. The Council of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at between 6,200 and 11,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although some anti-Semitic incidents and public references to stereotypes persisted on the internet and in some right-wing fringe groups. In one instance a senior lawmaker claimed during a March 18 interview that “smart” Jews were using the current laws to avoid being charged with violating criminal code provisions on challenging national independence.
The government condemned anti-Semitism and responded to anti-Semitic incidents. Jewish community representatives stressed their positive collaboration with government representatives and agencies. Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the July 4 Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga. On November 29, President Raimonds Vejonis and Saeima speaker Inara Murniece spoke at a ceremony commemorating the 25,000 mainly Latvian and German Jews killed under the Nazi German occupation in November-December 1941.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, access to healthcare, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to air travel and other transportation for persons with disabilities, and the government and municipalities partially implemented the law.
Although the law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, most were not accessible. NGOs criticized the government for not enforcing these provisions. The NGO Apeirons reported that approximately 80 percent of new and renovated buildings in the country were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and only 2 percent of all buildings were fully accessible. The State Audit Office and NGOs criticized the rules and regulations governing government provision of personal assistance services.
NGOs also criticized delays to state deinstitutionalization reforms that made it unlikely the deadline of the end of the year for the release of most individuals with mental disabilities from state institutions would be met. NGOs complained about unclear procedures and roles for social workers.
The law grants additional assistance to children with disabilities, allowing them and their caretakers to use public transportation free of charge. The law also permits families of children with disabilities to receive state-funded counseling. Children with disabilities generally attended school, the majority attending specialized schools. While they were also allowed to attend regular schools that could accommodate their needs, very few schools outside of Riga were able to do so. The government provided eligible children with disabilities with assistants in schools,
While health and labor services are provided as stipulated by law, NGOs said that the majority of persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, poor infrastructure, and the absence of specialized programs for such persons. NGOs also expressed concerns about the technical aid procurement service, which did not allow persons with disabilities to choose their own equipment, such as wheelchairs.
The law prohibits discrimination based on race. NGOs representing minority groups claimed that discrimination and harassment of national minorities was underreported to authorities. Through July the ombudsman received two written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination. The ombudsman and the Latvian Center for Human Rights reported several complaints from international students about discrimination and opened an investigation into the denial of entry to foreigners into bars and nightclubs solely on the basis of their nationality.
In the first seven months of the year, police initiated six criminal cases alleging incitement of ethnic or racial hatred. Complaints generally involved hate speech on the internet.
The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, there were 7,545 Roma in the country. Observers criticized the government’s action plan to address unemployment and educational problems in the Romani community as underfunded and insufficient to bring about substantial improvements. A 2015 study on Roma in the country cited low educational achievement among Roma–almost 40 percent of those interviewed had dropped out of primary school–for their high unemployment rate. According to the survey, 68 percent of Roma were unemployed. While the Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that 85 percent of Roma had some type of primary education, less than 1 percent had completed higher education.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the labor law does. NGOs expressed concerns about the lack of explicit protection in criminal law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ombudsman received one complaint about alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In February the Riga Public Transport Company organized a Valentine’s Day campaign, Pay with a Kiss, during which couples could “pay” for their trip by kissing each other. It was promoted as a campaign “for loving couples-for him and for her.” LGBTI representatives filed a complaint with the ombudsman that the campaign subjected homosexual partners to discrimination. The ombudsman concluded that the campaign was discriminatory and called for future campaigns to be more inclusive irrespective of passengers’ sexual orientation.
LGBTI representatives received no reports of violence or specific examples of discrimination during the first nine months of the year, and stressed that the general societal attitude had improved. They noted, however, that intolerance of LGBTI persons and discrimination against them was widespread and underreported. According to a 2014 survey, the most recent available, by the marketing and public opinion research center SKDS, 61 percent of respondents held negative attitudes towards members of the LGBTI community.
The NGO Mozaika remained concerned about the “morality clause” added to the Education Law in 2015, which aims to ensure an “ethical education” system that corresponds to the values of the constitution specifically with regard to marriage and family. Mozaika believed the morality clause caused self-censorship in schools and prevented teachers from addressing LGBTI issues.