Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Rape is punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment. If the offender used violence, the offense is considered aggravated, and the penalty may be more severe. The maximum penalties are six years’ imprisonment for rape and 10 years for aggravated rape. All sexual offenses against adults, except sexual harassment, are subject to public prosecution. Sexual offenses against a defenseless person (intoxicated or with a disability) are considered as severe as rape.
Authorities may prosecute domestic abuse under various criminal laws, including laws prohibiting rape, assault and battery, harassment, and disturbing the peace. The penalty for physical domestic violence ranges from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Civil society organizations criticized the emphasis on intentional violence in the legal definition of rape, which they alleged led courts to find assailants not guilty in cases where the coercion was less explicit. In one high-profile court case decided in January, the Eastern Finland Court of Appeals overruled a lower court’s rape conviction due to the fact that the assailant was not aware that his violence had compelled the victim to have sex with him.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a problem. In September, following a country inspection, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) reported that key professionals in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors and law enforcement officers, were not systematically trained before taking up their duties on how to intervene in cases of violence against women, including domestic violence. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with access to domestic violence shelters in remote rural areas.
The government funds shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, 179 beds were available in shelters throughout the country, a 25-percent increase over the year before. Demand for shelter space, as indicated by the number of days residents spent in each shelter, also grew by 25 percent during the same period. GREVIO reported a need for more female police officers to fulfill the government’s pledge always to match a victim of violence with an officer of the same gender. GREVIO also highlighted the need for additional shelters for victims of intimate partner violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as a specific, punishable offense with penalties ranging from fines to up to six months’ imprisonment. Employers who fail to protect employees from workplace harassment are subject to the same penalties. The prosecutor general is responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints. The government generally enforced the law.
On March 22, the Helsinki appeals court increased to 5,440 euros ($6,000) the fine of Member of Parliament Teuvo Hakkarainen (Finns Party) for sexually harassing fellow parliamentarian Veera Ruoho.
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. The government enforced the law effectively. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with workplace discrimination against pregnant women.
Birth Registration: A child generally acquires citizenship at birth through one or both parents. A child can also acquire citizenship at birth if the child is born in the country and meets certain other criteria, such as if the parents have refugee status in the country or if the child is not eligible for any other country’s citizenship. A local registration office records all births immediately.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, defining children as individuals younger than age 16. The law defines rape of a minor (younger than 18 years) as aggravated rape. Rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of one-year imprisonment and a maximum of six years. Child negligence and physical or psychological violence carry penalties of up to six months in prison and up to two years in prison, respectively. Aggravating factors may increase the length of the prison term.
The GREVIO report found judges did not always consider violence by one parent against another as a reason to restrict the abuser’s right of access to his or her child, reflecting a lack of awareness of the impact that exposure to violence may have on a child’s development.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18. In February parliament amended the law to disallow marriage of individuals under that age, even with an exemption from the Ministry of Justice. In recent years the ministry had issued between 10 and 30 exemptions per year. The National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking reported an increase in cases of forced marriage among its target population, rising to 26 in the first six months of the year, compared with 20 cases in all of 2018.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The country prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The law prohibits purchase of sexual services from minors and covers “grooming” (enticement of a child), including in a virtual environment or through mobile telephone contacts. Authorities enforced the law effectively, including through a one-million-euro ($1.1 million) grant announced in August to fund training on how to recognize online solicitation and exploitation.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law regards a person whose age cannot be determined, but who can reasonably be assumed to be younger than 18, as a child.
In March the National Bureau of Investigation completed a pretrial investigation of five men suspected of importing, receiving, and distributing sexually offensive material involving children between 2004 and 2018. Some of the suspects were also accused of having sexually abused the victims. In July police detained a Helsinki man on the suspicion of committing sex crimes, including aggravated rape and aggravated child sexual abuse, against 12 girls. In August police completed a pretrial investigation of a resident of the city of Espoo who was suspected of committing sex crimes against 52 girls through social media. In the first quarter of the year, there were 475 reported cases of child exploitation.
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/reported-cases.html.
Government statistics and Jewish leaders place the size of the Jewish population between 1,500 and 2,500 individuals, most living in the Helsinki area.
In July vandals in Helsinki defaced the entrance of the building housing, inter alia, the Embassy of Israel with anti-Semitic stickers glorifying Adolf Hitler and smashed the glass door to the building. Police and Jewish community representatives suspected the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) was behind the vandalism, although police did not make any arrests. Over the previous two years, the Helsinki Synagogue was similarly defaced in multiple incidents. The government provided funding for the security of the synagogue. Representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling under threat and specifically targeted due to their beliefs. In May, Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish member of the European Parliament campaigning for re-election, was approached on the street and threatened by an assailant who called him a derogatory slur for a Jewish person. In September the media reported that a recently elected member of parliament, Hussein al-Taee of the Social Democratic Party of Finland, had made anti-Semitic comments online.
Police continued to implement the 2018 court ban on the neo-Nazi NRM. The Finnish-language website of the organization was no longer online, and public displays of their symbol decreased in frequency, although members continued to spray graffiti. The National Bureau of Investigation suspected the NRM continued to operate underground. In February the nondiscrimination ombudsman announced the conclusion of a case her office brought before the National Nondiscrimination and Equality Tribunal in which an individual had prominently displayed a Nazi flag to the public. In the first ruling of its kind, the tribunal found such displays illegal. During a speech at the official Holocaust remembrance ceremony in January, Interior Minister Kai Mykkanen highlighted the prominent display of Nazi flags by marchers at a December 2018 demonstration in Helsinki as a reason for concern and reaffirmed government support for the fight against anti-Semitism.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in all fields, including the provision of government services. The government effectively monitored compliance with these laws and implemented enforcement actions. In response to complaints of lack of accessibility, the ombudsman carried out unannounced inspections on polling stations, schools, prisons, medical facilities, and other locations. The findings of the inspections were released during the year, and improvements were made, including in two voting locations that did not have accessible voting booths and in multiple prisons. The spot report found two prisons to be completely inaccessible.
The law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of origin and nationality. According to the results of the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey published in November 2018, 14 percent of persons of African descent in the country stated they had been subject to racist harassment in the previous five years. The most frequent complaints of discrimination or harassment concerned employment and online communication.
Media reports highlighted discrimination by private security guards as a concern. In February, Habiba Ali, a member of the Espoo City Council of Somali descent, complained after a security guard without cause accused her of shoplifting. In August an investigation of security services at the country’s largest amusement park found a history of training that encouraged ethnic profiling and discrimination against Romani visitors.
The nondiscrimination ombudsman is responsible for responding to complaints of discrimination and regularly mediated between business owners, government agencies, and public service providers regrading treatment of customers and clients. The Ministry of Justice also responds to complaints of discrimination. During the year the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations pointed out the vulnerability of first- and second-generation immigrant youth to discrimination.
The government strongly encouraged tolerance and respect for minority groups, sought to address racial discrimination, and assisted victims.
The constitution provides for the protection of the Sami language and culture, and the government financially supported these efforts. The Sami, who constituted less than 0.1 percent of the population, have full political and civil rights as citizens as well as a measure of autonomy in their civil and administrative affairs. A 21-member Sami parliament (Samediggi), popularly elected by the Sami, is responsible for the group’s language, culture, and matters concerning their status as an indigenous people. It can adopt legally binding resolutions, propose initiatives, and provide policy guidance.
During the year there were complaints the national government intervened election procedures of the Sami parliament by adding new voters to voter lists before elections in September. Members of the outgoing Sami parliament described the ministry’s actions as a violation of their right to self-determination and a threat to the viability of their self-governance. Representing the numerically small Sami minority, members of the Sami parliament asserted that the new voters recognized by the Ministry of Justice would overwhelm their traditional constituency and block their efforts to preserve cultural and traditional agricultural practices. In February, following a decision by the Ministry of Justice to compel the inclusion of a statistically significant number of new voters and a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court affirming it, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice abide by voter eligibility requirements previously established by the Sami parliament. The Supreme Administrative Court confirmed its decision, and elections went forward in September.
The ombudsman for gender equality stated that Sami victims of domestic violence were at a disadvantage in accessing public shelters due to the long distances between population centers in the northern part of the country. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also highlighted the challenges facing Sami due to the lack of government services in their own language, particularly in education and health services.
Sami objected to plans to develop an Arctic railway running from Helsinki to the northern border, citing the railway’s potential impact on natural resources critical for their livelihoods, including reindeer-herding land and Arctic nature tourism. In May activists demonstrated in Helsinki against the railway and plans to increase mining activities in historically Sami areas.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, and the government enforced the law.
The law requires that a transgender person present a medical statement affirming their gender identity and a certificate of infertility before the government will legally recognize their gender identity. In addition to the requirement that an individual submit to sterilization, activists criticized the duration of the legal process, stating it can take up to three years to obtain identity documents with the new gender markers. Trafficking authorities and civil society stated they have no specialized services for transgender victims of trafficking and are unaware of their status among the trafficking-victim population.
While the law prohibits “conversion therapy” in medical settings, it continued to be practiced privately, most commonly in religious associations. The media reported that the Christian organization Journey Finland, as well as strict branches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Orthodox Church, continued to practice conversion therapy.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In July police reported they were still searching for an individual who smeared feces on and vandalized a halal grocery store in the city of Hyvinkaa two to three times a week during 2018.