Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment, but the courts often imposed considerably shorter sentences. The government and NGOs reported that many incidents of rape and other sexual crimes were unreported, partly due to perceived insensitivity of police, exacerbated by a wide cultural acceptance of gender-based violence. Data from the Crime and Problem Analysis branch of the police service revealed that there were approximately 11,441 reports related to domestic violence between 2010 and 2015, 75 percent of these reports pertained to women. For the same period, 56 percent of 131 domestic violence-related deaths were women. Police channeled resources to its Victim and Witness Support Unit in an effort to overcome the problem. The unit continued outreach activities to support survivors of domestic violence. Police recruits also received additional training in the handling of domestic violence cases, and the service introduced new questions relating to domestic violence legislation to basic training exams.
Many community leaders asserted that violence against women, particularly in the form of domestic violence, continued to be a significant problem. The law provides for protection orders separating perpetrators of domestic violence, including abusive spouses and common-law partners, from their victims. Courts may also fine or imprison abusive spouses, but it was rarely done. While reliable national statistics were not available, women’s groups estimated that as many as 50 percent of all women suffered abuse.
The NGO Coalition against Domestic Violence charged that police often hesitated to enforce domestic violence laws and asserted that rape and sexual abuse against women and children remained a serious and pervasive problem.
Two NGOs, the Domestic Violence Unit and the Rape Crisis Society, received funding from the government and operated a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence. Hotline operators referred callers to NGO-run shelters for female victims, a rape crisis center, counseling services, support groups, and other assistance providers.
Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Although related statutes could be used to prosecute perpetrators of sexual harassment, and some trade unions incorporated antiharassment provisions in their contracts, both the government and NGOs continued to suspect that many incidents of sexual harassment went unreported.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right 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. Sexual health education is not a part of the national school curriculum, and barriers to access to contraception included cost, availability, and locality.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. No laws or regulations require equal pay for equal work. While equal pay for men and women in public service was the rule rather than the exception, both the government and NGOs noted considerable disparities in pay between men and women in the private and informal sectors, particularly in agriculture.
Birth Registration: Every person born in the country is a citizen at birth, unless the parents are foreign envoys accredited to the country. Children born outside the country can become citizens at birth if on that date one or both of the parents is, or was, a citizen. The law requires registration of every child born alive within 42 days of birth. Any person who registers or causes to be registered the birth of any child in contravention to the Births and Deaths Registration Act is liable to a fine of $1,000 TTD ($150).
Child Abuse: Child abuse cases continued to increase; during the Children’s Authority’s first nine months of operations ending February 17, a total of 4,158 children were brought to the authority’s attention. Of those, 915 cases were found to be sexual abuse, and 87 percent of the victims were female. The Children’s Authority has the power to receive and investigate reports of child abuse, remove children from their homes if they are deemed to be in imminent danger, and provide for foster homes around the country to be inspected and properly licensed. The Children’s Authority also has full responsibility for the country’s foster care and adoption system. The Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Child Development reported that young schoolchildren were vulnerable to rape, physical abuse, and drug use; some had access to weapons or lived with drug-addicted parents.
ChildLine, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, operated the National Student Hotline, a free and confidential round-the-clock telephone hotline for at-risk or distressed children and young adults up to age 25. ChildLine referred all calls relating to physical or sexual abuse to police or to social service agencies.
The law prohibits both corporal punishment of children and sentencing a child to prison. According to NGOs, however, abuse of children in their own homes or in institutional settings remained a serious problem, but there were no reliable statistics on prevalence.
Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal age for civil and Christian marriage is 18 for both men and women, the distinct laws and attitudes of the various religious denominations determine the minimum legal age for marriage. Under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, the minimum legal age for marriage is 16 for men and 12 for women; under the Hindu Marriage Act, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 14 for women; and under the Orisa Marriage Act, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. Statistics from the Office of the Registrar General showed an increase in child marriages over the past two decades, with 548 certified marriages of children between the ages of 12 and 16 occurring during the 10-year period 2006-16.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines a child as less than 18 years of age. The age of sexual consent is 18, and the age of consent for sexual touching is 16. Sexual penetration of a child is punishable by a maximum of life in prison. The law decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors, although this was not enforced. The law also creates specific offenses such as sexual grooming of a child (gaining the trust of a child, or of a person who takes care of the child, for the purpose of sexual activity with the child) and child pornography. The 2012 Children Act, which entered into force in May 2015, prescribes penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for subjecting a child to prostitution.
International Child Abductions: The government 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.
There were fewer than 100 Jews in the country. There were no reports of any anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The government formed a committee to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which it ratified in June 2015, but only one person with a disability was included on the committee. Disability rights advocates were aware of no efforts by the government to implement the CRPD. Prior to the ratification of the convention, the law prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability but did not mandate equal access for persons with disabilities to the political process, employment, education, transportation, housing, health care, the judicial system, or provision of other citizen services.
Persons with disabilities faced a number of obstacles to participating in the 2015 national elections, including a lack of physical access for persons with disabilities and sign language interpreting at political rallies. Voting stations for the most part were not accessible to persons with disabilities. No persons with disabilities participated as candidates or election officials.
Persons with disabilities faced discrimination and denial of opportunities. Such discrimination could be traced to architectural barriers, employers’ reluctance to make necessary accommodations that would enable otherwise qualified job candidates to work, an absence of support services to assist students with disabilities to study, lowered expectations of the abilities of persons with disabilities, condescending attitudes, and disrespect.
The Bureau of Standards adopted standards to make public buildings more accessible to persons with disabilities, although it had not developed a larger strategy for retrofitting existing public buildings.
Accessible parking spaces are provided voluntarily and not enforced by laws. Parking space placards and eligibility requirements do not exist, outside of those created by a local grocery store chain.
The census did not record indigenous people as a distinct group, although a very small group of persons identified themselves as descendants of the country’s original Amerindian population. The government effectively protected their civil and political rights, and they were not subject to discrimination or violence.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Although the law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, providing penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, the government generally did not enforce such legislation, except in conjunction with more serious offenses such as rape. Immigration laws also bar the entry of “homosexuals” into the country, but the legislation was not enforced during the year.
The law identifying classes of persons protected from discrimination does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The 2012 Children Act decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors. Other laws exclude same-sex partners from their protections. LGBTI rights groups reported that a stigma related to sexual orientation or gender identity in the country remained and likely inhibited reporting incidents.
In general victims of gay-related hate crimes avoided media attention.
In September, Attorney General Faris al-Rawi appointed a committee to consider amendments to the definition of sex in the Equal Opportunities Act to include sexual orientation.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
UNAIDS estimated there were 11,000 persons with HIV in 2015. HIV/AIDS was a medical and public health concern for the government, and civil society organizations engaged in HIV/AIDS response work. Stigmatization of those with HIV persisted, especially among high-risk groups, including men who have sex with men. There were reports of discrimination against this group, although no clear evidence of any violence. The government’s HIV and AIDS Agency and Secretariat coordinates the national response to HIV/AIDS, and the government employed HIV/AIDS coordinators in all ministries as part of its multisector response.