Rape and Domestic Violence: These acts are illegal, and authorities generally enforced the law. In most cases the penalty provided by law for rape, including spousal rape, is one to 10 years in prison. Actual sentences were generally lenient, the average being three years.
Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence.
According to NGO reports, courts often failed to prosecute domestic violence. When they did so, sentences were lenient. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, and a lack of alternative places to live often forced victims and perpetrators to continue to live together.
The country aligned its legislation with the Istanbul Convention on violence against women and domestic violence, but domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits victims to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When abuser and victim live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights.
Within the Romani communities, domestic violence was a serious problem. In a UNHCR report during the year, over half of Romani men and women surveyed agreed with the statement, “A man has the right to beat his wife in certain instances.” As a corollary, only 3 percent of the general population agreed with this statement.
According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female victims of domestic violence often complained that government-run social welfare centers did not respond adequately to their appeals for help. NGOs reported that state institutions did not provide physical protection for victims. In February an operative team for domestic violence was formed, composed of representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health, State Prosecution, the Supreme Court, the Higher Court, the Organization for the Civic Control of Police, and six NGOs.
The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In many Romani communities, the practice of paying a traditional “bride price” of several hundred to several thousand euros for girls and women to be sold into or purchased from families across the border in Kosovo or Albania led to concerns about trafficking in persons. The potential to be “remarried” existed, with some girls being sent back to their families, being resold, and the money then given to the former spouse’s family. These practices were rarely reported, and police rarely intervened, viewing the practices as “traditional.” These practices also led to girls being pulled out of school at a rate much higher than boys, limiting their literacy and ability to provide for themselves and their families, essentially trapping them in these situations.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, sexual harassment, including street harassment, of women occurred often, but few women reported it. Public awareness of the problem remained low. Victims hesitated to report harassment due to fears of employer reprisals and a lack of information about legal remedies. Stalking or predatory behavior with physical intimidation is punishable by law with a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted that women often experienced difficulty in defending their property rights in divorce proceedings due to the widespread public belief that property belongs to the man. Sometimes women ceded their inherited property and inheritance rights to male relatives due to tradition and pressure from their families, but this practice continued to decline. A consequence of these factors was that men tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership.
The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and the parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government adopted the 2017-2021 strategy on gender equality.
According to Romani NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often noted that they faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although it is illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 108:100. The government did not actively address the problem.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and, under some circumstances, by birth in the country, through naturalization, or as otherwise specified by international treaties governing the acquisition of citizenship. Registration of birth, a responsibility of the parents, is required for a child to have the necessary documents to establish his or her citizenship. Births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions were registered automatically. The parents of Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children not born in hospitals registered their births at much lower rates than other groups, mostly due to lack of awareness of the registration process or the parents’ own lack of identification documents. It was difficult for the unregistered children of Romani and Balkan Egyptian parents to access such government services as health care, social allowances, and education. Of the Romani and Balkan Egyptian children in primary school, 10 percent were not registered.
Education: The law provides for free, compulsory elementary education for all children. Secondary education is free but not compulsory.
Child Abuse: Child abuse laws are covered by the 2017-2021 strategy for the prevention and protection of children from domestic violence. The Ministry of Health reported that every third child was subject to emotional abuse, while every fourth child was a victim of physical abuse. Many children, particularly high school students, were exposed to alcohol, drugs, and violence. The ombudsman noted that child sexual abuse victims were usually girls between the ages of 14 and 16. The abusers were mostly close relatives of the children, and abuse usually occurred at home. The very low number of reported cases of sexual violence against children raised concerns about identification of victims.
Authorities prosecuted child abuse when they had cases with enough evidence, and the government worked to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting cases. Facilities and psychotherapy assistance for children who suffered from family violence were inadequate, and there were no marital or family counseling centers. Authorities sometimes placed juvenile victims of domestic violence in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic or the orphanage in Bijela.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in most cases, but persons as young as 16 may marry with the consent of the court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally owing to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.
Child marriage was a serious problem, particularly in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to a 2018 UNICEF report, 56.4 percent of Romani women were married before the age of 18, and 36 percent had a live birth before the age of 18. Of girls, 18.2 percent said they were married before the age of 15. For boys, nearly 35 percent were married before age 18, 6.5 percent of whom were before age 15. Of persons aged 15 to 19, 28 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys were married. There were reports of girls as young as 13 being sold into “traditional” marriages without their consent or input. These marriages generally did not meet the criteria necessary for legal, documented marriages. As such, they were difficult to track and regulate, regardless of legality.
The custom of buying or selling virgin brides continued in the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. Brides found not to be virgins prior to marriage faced severe repercussions, including violence, from the groom’s family, their family, and the community at large.
The government implemented some measures to prevent underage marriage, including enforcing mandatory school education.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring for prostitution. The country partially enforced the law, omitting “traditional” practices of selling children into forced marriage as a concern in some Romani communities. The age of sexual consent is 18. There is a statutory rape law. Sexual activity with a juvenile carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Paying a juvenile for sexual activity carries a prison term of three months to five years. Authorities may fine or imprison for one to 10 years any person found guilty of inducing a minor into prostitution.
Child pornography is illegal, and sentences for violators range from six months in prison for displaying child pornography to eight years for using a child in the production of pornography.
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.html.
The Jewish community was approximately 500 individuals. 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
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government was implementing the Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2020, but NGOs claimed that it did not do so effectively. During the year, 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities formed a network to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy better.
Authorities generally enforced the requirement that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but most public facilities, including buildings and public transportation, were older and lacked access. Although election laws specifically require accessible polling places, the majority of polling stations remained inaccessible.
Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to bring legal proceedings against persons or institutions seen to be violating their rights. Observers ascribed this reluctance to the adverse outcomes of previous court cases or, according to the ombudsman, to insufficient public awareness of human rights and protection mechanisms relating to disabilities. The NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities initiated several discrimination cases against the Kotor Basic Court and Kotor Social Center this year while court processes against the national parliament, the Podgorica municipality, and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued.
The Ministries of Health; Labor and Social Welfare; Education; Sports; Finance; Justice; Human and Minority Rights; Sustainable Development and Tourism, as well as the Secretariat for Legislation, the State Employment Agency, and five NGOs provided assistance and protection within their respective spheres. Together, they constituted the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare with the responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. Associations of parents of children with disabilities were the primary providers of these services. The law permits parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to work half time, but employers did not respect this right.
The government made efforts to enable children with disabilities to attend schools and universities, but the quality of the education they received and the facilities to accommodate them remained inadequate at all levels. NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities were generally institutionalized, or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities had difficulty obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.
Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly due to prejudice and limited access to social services. Lack of required documentation often limited their access to services. The law relating to citizenship and its accompanying regulations makes obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. For example, access to health-care services remained difficult for members of these communities due to their lack of medical care cards. The government adopted the Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Balkan Egyptians 2016-2020, which, as implemented, resulted in some improvements in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing.
According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians was 36 percent compared with a rate of 11 percent for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians lived in illegal squatter settlements that often lacked services such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal.
Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northern parts of the country frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect. Ethnic Serb politicians claimed that the government discriminated against the Serbian national identity, language, and religion.
Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those ethnic minorities. NGOs, legal observers, and the media continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law forbids incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Anti-LGBTI bias motive is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.
The NGO Queer Montenegro reported four physical attacks against LGBTI individuals in the first nine months of the year. LGBTI NGOs stated that most of these cases were prosecuted as disorderly conduct and not as hate crimes. They also reported that transgender persons were susceptible to the most severe violence. Queer Montenegro reported an attack against a transgender person in September 2017 that was being prosecuted as a hate crime. The NGO considered this a positive development that should be standard practice, not an exception.
LGBTI advocates reported that young persons perpetrated 80 percent of the violent crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Hostile individuals used social media and LGBTI dating sites to attack and bully known and suspected LGBTI persons anonymously. In the first five months of the year, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress reported to police 78 persons for hate speech and incitement to violence targeting LGBTI persons on the internet. They also submitted reports to police against two politicians and some high-ranking religious leaders for anti-LGBTI statements.
Negative public perception of LGBTI persons led many to conceal their sexual orientation, although there was a trend toward greater visibility as LGBTI persons came out to their families and colleagues. In 2017, the last year for which data was available, the Ombudsman’s Office received three reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation, the same as in 2016. There were also reports of beatings, with some based on LGBTI identity, in prisons and detention centers across the country.
On October 29, the Constitutional Court found in favor of a complaint registered on behalf of LGBTI groups following a 2015 police ban on holding a pride parade in Niksic, reversing a 2016 Supreme Court ruling. The Constitutional Court found that the police decision to ban the pride parade in that town for security reasons had violated the rights of organizers to peaceful assembly and that the state failed to provide adequate protection for an event legally registered with police. NGO representatives assessed the Constitutional Court’s ruling as an encouraging message to the LGBTI community and public that the rights of all citizens must be respected.
Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTI persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTI NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed that fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records prevented many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported that patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. There has been no official response to these claims.