Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and provides for penalties of three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is younger than 18 years or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. A 2016 UN Population Fund study found that one in seven women experienced physical or sexual violence and most of those women said they had experienced such violence multiple times. Only 4 percent of women who had experienced violence contacted the police.
Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.
The LWU and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a countrywide hotline for persons to report incidents of domestic violence and receive telephonic counseling.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and may be punished by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its prevalence remained difficult to assess.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women as for men and equal pay for equal work, but in some regions, traditional attitudes about gender roles kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of cultural-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas.
The LWU operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including conducting programs to strengthen the role of women; the programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in civil service and private business, and in urban areas, their incomes frequently were higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities.
Birth Registration: Regardless of where they are born, children acquire citizenship if both parents are citizens. Children born of one citizen parent acquire citizenship if born in the country or, when born outside the country’s territory, if one parent has a permanent in-country address. Parents did not register all births immediately. The village chief registers children born in remote areas, and then the local authority adds the name and date of birth of the child in the family registration book. Every family must have a family registration book. If parents failed to register a child at birth, they could request to add the child to the family registration book later.
Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal through fifth grade, but a shortage of teachers and the expectation children would help their parents with farming in rural areas prevented some children from attending school. There were significant differences among ethnic groups in the educational opportunities available to boys and girls. To increase elementary school attendance by ethnic minority children, the government continued to support the establishment of dormitories in rural areas countrywide. School enrollment rates for girls were lower than for boys, although the gender disparity continued to decrease. According to 2016 data, 17 percent of school-age girls, compared with 11 percent of school-age boys, never attended school.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, and offenders are subject to re-education programs and unspecified penal measures in more serious cases. (For statistics on violence against children, see the UNICEF website.)
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18 years, but the law allows marriage as young as 15 years with parental consent. Approximately 35 percent of girls married before they reached 18 years, and 9 percent married before they were 15 years old, a practice particularly prevalent among certain ethnic groups and impoverished rural families.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consensual sex is 15 years. The law does not provide penalties for child prostitution, but the penalty for sex with a child (defined as younger than 15 years) is one to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to three million kip ($58 to $350). The law does not include statutory rape as a crime distinct from sex with a child or rape. Authorities did not treat child pornography differently from pornography in general, for which the penalty is three months to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 200,000 kip ($5.85 to $23.40).
The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The government continued efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through periodic raids and training workshops. The government and NGOs hosted seminars to train tourism-sector employees, and many major international hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang displayed posters warning against child sex tourism.
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.html.
There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of 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
Although constitutional protections against discrimination do not apply specifically to persons with disabilities, regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Lao National Commission for the Disabled generally sought to protect such persons against discrimination. Authorities rarely enforced these regulations. Little information was available regarding discrimination in the workplace, although persons with disabilities reported it was difficult sometimes to access basic services and obtain employment.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has primary responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is also involved in addressing health-related needs of persons with disabilities and continued to coordinate with international NGOs.
The law requires construction projects begun after 2009 to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities, particularly buildings, roads, and public places. The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings built before its enactment or government services for persons with disabilities, but Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare regulations resulted in construction of additional sidewalk ramps.
The government continued to implement its strategic plan to protect the rights of children with disabilities and enable them to study alongside other children in schools countrywide. The nongovernmental Lao Disabled People’s Association noted that in many cases students with disabilities lacked access to separate education.
The law provides for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and bars discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation. Nonetheless, some societal discrimination persisted. Moreover, some critics continued to charge the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture and opium production adversely affected many ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas. In some rural ethnic minority areas, a lack of livelihoods and decent employment contributed to significant migration to urban areas and practices such as illegal logging.
Of the 49 official ethnic groups in the country, the Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent. A number of Hmong officials served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP, including one Politburo member and several members of the LPRP Central Committee. Some Hmong maintained separatist or irredentist political beliefs, and small, scattered pockets of insurgents and their families remained in rural areas. The government continued to reduce its efforts to combat them actively, while continuing to offer amnesty to those who surrendered. Amnestied insurgents continued to be the focus of official suspicion and scrutiny, and the government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for housing, employment, or government services. There were no reports of discrimination, but observers believed societal stigma and concern about repercussions led some to withhold reporting incidents of abuse.
There were no legal impediments to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizational activities, but the government discouraged such activities by withholding approval to organizations wishing to hold public awareness activities.
Some societal discrimination in employment and housing persisted, and there were no governmental efforts to address it. Local activists explained that most openly LGBTI persons did not attempt to apply for government or high-level private-sector jobs because there was a tacit understanding that employers were unwilling to hire them. Reports indicated lesbians faced greater societal stigma and discrimination than gay men, while the transgender population faced the highest levels of societal stigma and discrimination.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Research conducted in 2012 found persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant social stigma, which for some resulted in verbal and physical assault, job loss, and income loss. The Ministry of Health continued to promote tolerance and understanding of persons with HIV/AIDS through public-awareness campaigns. The government took steps to include gay men and transgender persons in its National Strategy and Action plan for HIV/AIDS prevention. Senior government officials stated that stigma towards the LGBTI community had decreased in at least some parts of society, although the government did not directly address or support transgender issues.