Rape and Domestic Violence: In 2017 parliament unanimously passed a comprehensive law addressing all forms of gender-based violence, which went into effect in February 2018. The law broadly defines violence against women as “any restriction denying women equality in the civil, political, economic, social, or cultural domains.” The law, which enjoyed widespread support from both political parties and civil society organizations, adds or updates articles in the Penal Code to meet international best practices. It criminalizes previously uncovered acts of incest, sexual harassment of women in public places, and gender discrimination.
Rape remained a taboo, and cultural pressures often dissuaded victims from reporting sexual assault. Several civil society groups urged the government to improve implementation of the new law condemning gender-based violence, including by providing better protection and legal remedies for victims of sexual assault.
In one case that received extensive national-level attention, on August 28, the minister of health visited a 15-year-old girl at the hospital after she had been allegedly gang raped and her relatives physically assaulted by five men over the course of several days. Media reported that her neighbor, who had led the attack, was a police officer. In the course of the attack, both the girl’s mother and grandmother died from their injuries. The minister told media the government would provide the girl and her family with all necessary medical and psychological assistance. Upon her release from the hospital, the girl was reportedly transferred to a child protection center. Media reported that the National Guard arrested the perpetrators in “record time.”
Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem. The 2018 law strengthens the penalties for domestic violence and allows women to seek restraining orders against their abusers without filing a criminal case or filing for divorce. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood Affairs established a national hotline for victims of violence. While the service hours were limited, the ministry reported that between early 2017 and August 2018, 4,727 women called the hotline and were referred to the ministry’s services and assistance. There were five centers dedicated to providing assistance to women victims of violence, one of which was managed by the ministry and four by civil society organizations.
There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Victims received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country.
Sexual Harassment: The 2018 gender-based violence law includes a revised article related to sexual harassment. It allows up to a two-year sentence for the harasser and a 5,000-dinar ($2,040) fine, instead of the previous one year in prison. The law further clarifies that sexual harassment can include any act, gesture, or words with sexual connotation. The punishment is doubled if the victim is a child or the perpetrator has authority over the victim.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution and law explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Women faced societal rather than statutory barriers to their economic and political participation. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion, judges drew upon interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance disputes.
Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or to keep them separate. In 2017 the government cancelled the 1973 decree law that prevented the marriage of Muslim female citizens with non-Muslim men unless the men presented proof of conversion to Islam. Sharia requires men, but not women, to provide for their families. Because of this expectation, in some instances, sharia inheritance law provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to those given sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other, unless they seek a legal judgement based on the rights enshrined in the 2014 constitution. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to one-third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.
On August 10, the Ministry of Health issued a circular to all public hospitals requiring that they inform authorities upon receiving cases of pregnancy outside of marriage, children born to unmarried couples, or single mothers wishing to abandon their newborns. In response, the National Council of the Medical Order issued a statement calling the circular unacceptable as it violates professional secrecy, basic individual rights, and the protection of personal data. The Ministry of Health later withdrew this guidance.
The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child under 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years. Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work. The new law on gender-based violence contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap.
The government initiated a “Council of Peers” during the year, with participation of each ministry and the major labor organizations, to institutionalize changes to promote gender sensitivity and integration at all levels of public administration, including budget proposals and government programs.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth from one’s parents, and the law provides for a period of 10 days to register a newborn. Thereafter, parents have 30 days to explain why they failed to register a newborn and complete the registration. Female citizens can transmit citizenship on an equal basis with male citizens, and there is no discrimination between a mother and father regarding passport application and authorization to leave the country.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood designated 21 psychologists to treat victims of child abuse and announced its collaboration with civil society to provide increased services for child victims in shelters in Sousse, Sfax, and Tunis.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18, but the courts may, in certain situations, authorize the marriage of persons younger than 18 upon the request and approval of both parents.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Anyone who has sexual relations with a girl under age 10 is subject to the death penalty. The 2018 law against gender-based violence addresses all forms of gender-based violence. Under previous laws, intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 without the use of violence was punishable by six years in prison; the 2018 law raised the age of consent to 16, and removed a clause in the legal code that allowed the court to drop the charges of sex with a minor if the perpetrator agreed to marry the victim, with the approval of her parents. The law prohibits child pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.
An estimated 1,400 Jews lived in the country. During widespread, violent protests against government austerity in January, vandals threw incendiary devices into the courtyard of a synagogue and at a Jewish school on the island of Djerba. There were no injuries. Observers said the attackers took advantage of reduced police presence around the institutions due to the protests. According to media reports, police arrested five suspects in connection with the incident, and members of the Jewish community described security officials as being responsive.
On May 1-4, an annual Jewish pilgrimage took place on the island of Djerba. Local media estimated participation at 3,000 persons, including approximately 400 Israelis. The event took place without incident and included the participation of several government ministers. Leaders in the Jewish community and government publicly praised the pilgrimage as a sign of the excellent relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities.
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 or mental disabilities. It mandates that at least 2 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it.
Since 1991, the law requires all new public buildings to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and the government generally enforced the law. Persons with physical disabilities did not have access to most buildings built before 1991. The government did not ensure information and communications were accessible for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The government issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, free and priority medical services, free and preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts. The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. There were approximately 300 government-administered schools for children with disabilities, at least five schools for blind pupils, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. The Ministry of Social Affairs managed centers that provided short- and long-term accommodation and medical services to persons with disabilities who lacked other means of support.
The Ibsar Association, which works to promote rights for all persons with disabilities, estimated that fewer than one-third of persons with disabilities hold a government-issued disability card, which entitles the holder to a monthly government stipend of 120 dinars ($44).
One of the biggest challenges for persons with disabilities, according to Ibsar, was a lack of access to information through education, media, or government agencies. There were very limited education options or public-sector accommodations for persons with hearing or visual disabilities. There were no schools for children with hearing disabilities, and Ibsar estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with hearing disabilities were illiterate. For children with physical disabilities, infrastructure continued be a major hurdle to their social inclusion, as few buildings or cities are accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.
For the municipal elections, while ISIE prepared electoral handbooks in Braille and ensured sign language interpretation for most of its press conferences, civil society observer groups noted that ISIE did not provide effective, timely outreach and voter education programs to reach persons with disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes sodomy. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs, authorities occasionally used the law against sodomy to detain and question persons about their sexual activities and sexual orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. In some instances, NGOs reported that LGBTI individuals were targeted under the article of the penal code that criminalizes “infringement of morality or public morals,” which carries a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($370). ADLI, a civil society organization, reported that 120 individuals had been arrested and accused of homosexuality during the first 10 months of the year.
In 2017 the National Council of the Medical Order in Tunisia issued a statement calling for doctors to cease conducting forced anal and genital examinations, which the World Health Organization and United Nations have said can constitute acts of torture. Human rights organizations and LGBTI-focused NGOs stated that the statement has neither deterred these exams nor reduced the rate of individuals being sentenced to jail under the sodomy law, since judges often assumed guilt of individuals who refused to submit voluntarily to an exam. Tunisian LGBTI-rights NGO Shams Association reported a decrease in the use anal examination through physical force by the police but an increase in coerced anal examinations as police and judicial officials frequently used the individuals’ refusal to submit to the exam as “proof” of their homosexuality.
LGBTI individuals continued to face discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats, although societal stigma and fear of prosecution under sodomy laws discouraged individuals from reporting problems. LGBTI-rights associations collaborated to publish a study in May that surveyed 300 LGBTI individuals about the types of violence experienced as well as the perpetrators and location of this violence. According to this study, more than 50 percent of those surveyed reported they had been insulted more than once in public spaces due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation; 24 percent reported that within the previous six years they had been the victim of a physical threat or attack for the same reason.
Although there continued to be no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care, this survey found widespread anecdotal evidence of systemic denial of services and socio-economic discrimination targeting LGBTI individuals. Approximately 25 percent of the respondents reported they had been refused a job due to their LGBTI status, and 10 percent reported being denied medical treatment or tests, at least once, due to LGBTI status.