Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.
The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents if the perpetrator was a police officer or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence. According to some NGOs, interagency teams focused on resolving the “family problem” rather than initially treating claims of domestic violence as criminal matters. In one case, on September 13, a woman who had made repeated reports to police that a former partner was threatening her was shot and killed. The main suspect was her former partner. At year’s end, prosecutors were investigating whether police took appropriate action in response to the victim’s prior complaints.
Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years in prison. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: A government ombudsman for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsman’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. The government continued running public awareness campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although the guardianship court may grant permission for girls as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three months to 10 years. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and alleged pedophiles.
According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.
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 Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on radio and social media. Jewish organizations expressed concern about their physical safety and security.
There were reports of an increase in anti-Semitic speech following some negative public reaction to the amendments to the IPN law adopted by the lower house of parliament on January 26. The director of state-run television station TVP-2, Marcin Wolski, stated on camera that Nazi death camps could be called “Jewish death camps” as Jews operated the crematoria. During the same program, author Rafal Ziemkiewicz stated, “Jews also were part of their own destruction.” A presidential advisor stated Israel’s negative reaction to the law stemmed from a “feeling of shame at the passivity of Jews during the Holocaust.” Several television commentators and opinion writers argued the Israeli government’s opposition to the IPN law was part of an effort to “soften up” Poland to get billions of dollars in property restitution for Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
On February 19, several Jewish organizations issued a joint statement expressing concern over a growing wave of intolerance, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in the country. They warned of an increasing number of threats and insults directed at the country’s Jewish community and stated that they do not feel safe in the country. In April a Holocaust survivor of the Lviv (Ukraine) ghetto told those at a rally in Gdansk of her concern regarding the lack of reaction by the government.
In January authorities arrested and charged three individuals from a neo-Nazi group after an investigative television report showed members of the Pride and Modernity Association dressed in Nazi military uniforms celebrating Hitler’s birthday in April 2017. Senior officials strongly condemned the incident and called for dissolution of the association. On February 20, the government set up an interagency team for combatting promotion of fascism and other totalitarian ideologies. On April 10, the Gliwice district prosecutor filed a motion to dissolve the Pride and Modernity Association. On October 9, the Wodzislaw Slaski local court fined one of the participants in the April event 13,000 zlotys ($3,500) after he pled guilty to public promotion of a totalitarian ideology and illegal possession of weapon.
On July 19, the Bialystok District Prosecutor’s office discontinued the investigation into the alleged desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the town of Siemiatycze in December 2017. The prosecutors concluded there was no desecration as the construction was approved through the county permitting process, the human remains were hard to see, and the contractors carrying out the work did not intend to desecrate the cemetery.
In January Holocaust survivors, Prime Minister Morawiecki, and other political and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In February the chairman of the Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, condemned anti-Semitism as a “disease of the mind and soul.”
On March 6, the lower house of parliament adopted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1968 purges in which thousands of Jews were exiled from Poland. The resolution condemned all manifestations of anti-Semitism and the communists who organized the 1968 purges. In March parliament also passed, and the president signed, legislation making March 24 a national holiday commemorating Poles who saved Jews during World War II.
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 law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the government effectively enforced these provisions, there were reports of some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.
The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year.
On July 2, a joint report by the human rights defender and the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that only 5 percent of hate crimes against migrants from Muslim countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and Ukraine were reported to police.
On January 4, a man physically and verbally attacked a 14-year-old girl of Turkish origin in Warsaw. Prime Minister Morawiecki and Minister of Interior and Administration Blaszczak condemned the attack and declared there is no room for racism in the country, and prosecutors launched an investigation into the attack.
On January 13, Minister of Interior and Administration Joachim Brudzinski condemned xenophobic and aggressive behavior against those with differing their skin color, religion, or beliefs following an attack that day in which two men verbally assaulted two Syrian citizens in Wroclaw. Police detained the men, who were charged with public insulting on the basis of national origin. The men could face up to three-years in prison if convicted.
On January 15, the Lodz District Court sentenced two men to two years in prison for attacking a kebab restaurant owner in Lodz. The attack took place in April 2017, when the men verbally assaulted and threw chairs at the restaurant owner and his staff.
On March 15, police arrested a man who took part in an August 2017 attack against a black Polish boxer at a Szczecin nightclub, shouting racial insults and attacking him with an axe. The victim was hospitalized. Police were searching for the main suspect at year’s end.
On November 11, the government led a march through Warsaw in celebration of 100 years of Poland’s regained independence. The march took place concurrently with the annual Independence Day March organized by a coalition of groups widely considered extremist in their ideologies, including the National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth–Mlodziez Wszechpolska. While most of the marchers–estimates ranged up to 250,000–carried Polish flags in line with a government request to carry only red and white flags and banners, some participants displayed signs and banners depicting white-supremacy symbols. An Italian neo-Fascist group also participated in the Independence Day march. A smaller counter protest took place at the same time. The two marches were peaceful.
Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.
Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.
During the year the government allocated 10 million zlotys ($2.8 million) for programs to support Roma communities, including for educational programs. In addition, the Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.
The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. In April an extremist group called “Szturmowcy” (“storm troopers”) hung anti-immigrant posters around the town of Zyrardow near Warsaw. The posters asserted foreigners were taking jobs from Polish workers, and called for boycotting a local job agency for recruiting migrant workers from Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh to work in Polish companies.
On August 1, the Warsaw city authorities revoked permission for a march by the ONR to commemorate the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. City officials said participants displayed symbols promoting totalitarian regimes. In response to the city’s order, police dispersed the assembly, although dozens of marchers continued down the planned route. Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration Brudzinski criticized the Warsaw authorities for terminating the march.
Red Watch, a webpage run by a Polish neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor, listed politicians and activists by name, describing them as “traitors of the race.” The entries often included the home addresses and telephone numbers of the persons listed. Authorities stated they could do nothing because the site’s servers were located outside the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity, but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The prime minister’s plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary’s office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The human rights defender also continues to work on LGBTI human rights cases.
NGOs and politicians reported increasing acceptance of LGBTI persons by society but also stated that discrimination was still common in schools, workplaces, hospitals, and clinics. NGOs maintained that most cases of such discrimination went unreported.
On August 19, unknown perpetrators verbally and physically attacked an LGBT couple near one of the Gdansk beaches because they were holding hands.
On June 14, the Supreme Court rejected Justice Minister and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro’s appeal against a 2016 lower court decision finding a printer who refused services to the LGBT Business Forum Foundation in 2016 guilty of a misdemeanor.