Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and prescribes penalties for rape or forcible sexual assault of 12 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The government enforced the law effectively, including applying its provisions in cases involving rape of men. Authorities investigated and prosecuted all reported cases of sexual abuse.
Violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law imposes sentences of four to eight years’ imprisonment for domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and Police provided resources and counseling for victims of domestic violence and raised awareness about domestic violence through public television programs. There were victims’ rooms in police stations in Paramaribo and Nickerie. Authorities trained police units to assist survivors and perpetrators of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau managed a shelter for female victims of domestic violence and children up to age 12 where victims can stay for up to three months. Use of the shelter was far below its capacity.
A second shelter for women in crisis situations opened in December 2020 with the capacity to provide temporary housing for 13 women and their children for up to six months. The shelter was an NGO initiative that received both government and private-sector support. The COVID-19 pandemic hampered the shelter’s ability to function.
The Office of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs continued its awareness programs on domestic violence against women and girls throughout the year. It also supported other organizations that assisted victims of domestic violence. While COVID-19 precautionary measures limited in-person programming, awareness messaging continued. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, funding initially allocated for the UN’s Enabling Gender-Responsive Disaster Recovery, Climate, and Environmental Resilience in the Caribbean program was reallocated to strengthen the responsiveness of organizations that provided support in cases of domestic violence during the pandemic.
Sexual Harassment: There is no specific legislation criminalizing sexual harassment, but prosecutors cited various laws when filing sexual harassment cases. There were no reported court cases involving sexual harassment in the workplace.
Stalking is a criminal offense, and police may investigate possible cases of stalking without a formal complaint. Pending investigation, police may issue temporary restraining orders limiting contact between victim and suspect for up to 30 days. If found guilty, offenders can receive prison sentences ranging from four to 12 years and a large fine. The government enforced the law effectively.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Information on reproductive health was widely available, and no legal barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraceptives. In some rural areas, however, skilled health-care workers were sometimes not readily available due to the distances between villages.
Vulnerable populations were able to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health. In cases concerning persons with disabilities unable to provide consent, a legal guardian must be present.
Survivors of sexual violence had access to government-supported health insurance that arranged services for sexual and reproductive health. Emergency contraception in cases of rape was available during medical treatment of the victim. Survivors requested assistance either through the Ministry of Social Affairs, which was primarily responsible for issuing government-supported health insurance, or through the Bureau of Victim Care in the Ministry of Justice and Police, which provided counseling and health-care assistance to victims.
The maternal death rate in 2017 was 120 per 100,000 live births. The high rate of maternal mortality was attributed to infections (27 percent), bleeding (20 percent), and high blood pressure (14 percent). Of maternal mortality cases, 63 percent occurred postpartum. A July study reported that postnatal care was weak, as women often did not return to the doctor until six weeks after delivery for their child’s first doctor’s visit. Complications resulting from pregnancy or delivery were often not identified on a timely basis.
In mid-October the Steering Group for Maternal and Neonatal Care issued a warning that the COVID-19 pandemic raised maternal mortality. While the average number of women dying during or around pregnancy was 13 per year, between January and September, 30 women died during pregnancy, of whom 19 died due to COVID-19.
The adolescent birth rate for girls ages 15 to 19 was 65 per 1,000. There was a high rate of adolescent pregnancy in low-income city neighborhoods and in the interior of the country. Most adolescents in this age group claimed to have an unmet need for comprehensive sexual education. These pregnancies often led to girls dropping out of school, limiting their chances for development. Research released in July showed that the children from these early births themselves had children at a very early age.
Discrimination: The law provides for the protection of a woman’s right to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nonetheless, women experienced discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work as men. No law specifically addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. The law does not mandate equal work for equal pay. No law prohibits gender discrimination for access to credit.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law states that every person has equal rights to the protection of person and goods. It further states that nobody may be discriminated against based on his or her birth, gender, race, language, religion, descent, education, political beliefs, economic position, social circumstance, or any other status. The government enforced these protections effectively.
While there were no reported cases of governmental or societal violence against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities, there was an increase in racial discrimination and ethnically focused messaging on social media.
The law affords no special protection for, or recognition of, indigenous peoples. The IACHR identified the Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior, approximately 22 percent of the population) as tribal peoples and thus entitled to the same rights as the indigenous Amerindian communities (approximately 4 percent of the population).
Maroons and Amerindians living in the remote and undeveloped interior had limited access to education, employment, and health and social services. Both groups participated in decisions affecting their traditions and cultures, but they had limited influence in decisions affecting exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on their lands. Both Maroons and Amerindians took part in regional governing bodies, as well as in the National Assembly, and were part of the governing coalition.
The government recognizes the different Maroon and indigenous tribes, but the tribes hold no special status under national law, and there was no effective demarcation of their lands. Because authorities did not effectively demarcate or police Amerindian and Maroon lands, these populations faced problems with illegal and uncontrolled logging and mining. No laws grant indigenous peoples the right to share in the revenues from the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands. Organizations representing Maroon and Amerindian communities complained that small-scale mining operations, mainly by illegal gold miners, dug trenches that cut residents off from their agricultural land and threatened to drive these communities away from their traditional settlements. Many of these miners were themselves tribal or supported by tribal groups. Mercury runoff from these operations, as well as riverbank erosion, contaminated drinking water and threatened traditional food sources, especially freshwater fish.
Maroon and Amerindian groups complained about the government granting land within traditional indigenous peoples’ territories to third parties, who sometimes prevented the villagers from engaging in their traditional activities on those lands.
In August the government took initial steps towards the implementation of the 2015 ruling of the IACHR in the case of the Kalina and Lokono peoples of Marowijne. The government’s Council of Ministers approved part of the one-million-dollar transfer to the community development fund it was ordered to establish under the ruling. These funds were to be used for education, health care, food supply, and security.
In April the Mulukot Foundation, Association of Indigenous Village Heads, and NGO Cultural Survival submitted a shadow report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the country’s Universal Periodic Review in November, in which the organizations concluded that the government had not met its human rights obligations towards indigenous peoples.
Birth Registration: The law provides that citizenship transmits to a child when either the father or mother has Surinamese citizenship at the time of birth; when the parent is Surinamese but has died before the birth; or if the child is born in the country’s territory and does not automatically acquire citizenship of another country. Births must be registered with the Civil Registry within one week. Failure to do so within the mandated period results in a more cumbersome process of registration.
Child Abuse: Children suffered a high rate of physical and mental abuse. According to the most recent (2018) UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 88 percent of children ages two to 14 suffered either physical or mental abuse. In rural areas the rate was even higher, at 92 percent. Results of a study released in March showed that while an estimated 70,000 children encountered some form of abuse each year, only approximately 400 cases were reported.
To avoid intimidation by perpetrators, there were arrangements for children to testify in special chambers at legal proceedings. The Youth Affairs Office continued to raise awareness about sexual abuse, drugs, and alcohol through a weekly television program. The Youth Support Hotline, which received government support, expanded its services from eight hours per day to 24-hour service, with access to services through its social media pages as well. The hotline provided confidential advice and aid to children in need. UNICEF continued to cooperate with the government to train officials from various ministries dealing with children and children’s rights. The Ministry of Justice and Police operated three child protection centers in different parts of the country.
With the support of UNICEF, the Academic Hospital Paramaribo opened a social pediatric unit for abused children in March. The unit provided child victims of abuse with medical, social, and psychological guidance and worked with authorities to identify abusers.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Parental permission to marry is required until the age of 21. The marriage law sets the minimum age of marriage at 15 for girls and 17 for boys, provided parents of the parties agree to the marriage. Children in certain tribal communities often married at an age younger than that set by the law.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for commercial child sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities investigated all reported abuses. While the legal age of sexual consent is 14, trafficking-in-persons legislation makes illegal the sexual exploitation of a person younger than age 18. Criminal law penalizes persons responsible for recruiting children into prostitution and provides penalties of up to six years’ imprisonment and a significant fine for pimping. The law also prohibits child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment and a fine. Lack of economic opportunities led to an increasing number of adolescent boys and girls trafficked for sex, sometimes by their parents, to support the family or to pay for education. One NGO reported commercial sexual exploitation of children as young as 14. While the country was not generally considered a destination for child sex tourism, in prior years there were cases of tourists involved in sexual exploitation of children.
Several cases of sexual exploitation, sexual and physical abuse, and neglect came to trial. Victims included both boys and girls. Sentences ranged up to 10 years in prison.
Institutionalized Children: Orphanages and other shelters for children are not government facilities and relied on private funds and charitable donations. As a result care for children was unequal and often inadequate. There were reported cases of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in some shelter facilities.
In July the Prosecutors’ Office introduced a new model for processing criminal cases involving youth delinquents. Children who have committed a simple, nonviolent criminal offense were sentenced to either an education program or a work project aimed at correcting their behavior. This new model was intended to be corrective rather than punitive and aimed to prevent children from becoming repeat offenders. The project was financed through UNICEF.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of 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.
There was a Jewish community of approximately 100 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or discrimination.
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
No laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive general health benefits, but the process can be cumbersome. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and services. Authorities provided some training programs for persons with impaired vision or other disabilities. No laws or programs required access to buildings for persons with disabilities. There is also no law that requires government information and communication to be provided in accessible formats. The government sought to include sign language interpreters for government programming on television. A judge may rule to deny a person with a cognitive disability the right to vote, to take part in business transactions, or to sign legal agreements.
There was secondary and technical education for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, but not for those with visual disabilities. The Foundation for the Blind teaches braille and life skills to persons who are visually impaired. Children with disabilities attended school at a far lower rate than their peers without a disability. Depending on the disability, children could attend mainstream schools. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV and AIDS experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and medical services. Medical treatment is free for persons with HIV or AIDS covered under government insurance, but private insurers did not cover such treatment. NGOs reported discriminatory testing, and subsequent denial of assistance for persons with HIV or AIDS who applied for housing assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Activists stated there were few official reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, primarily due to fear of retribution and because authorities did not take seriously complaints filed by members of the LGBTQI+ community. There were reports of discrimination against persons in the LGBTQI+ community in employment and housing.
The law prohibits discrimination and hate speech based on sexual orientation, specifically protecting the LGBTQI+ community. Violations are punishable by a fine or prison sentence of up to one year. The law does not set standards for determining what constitutes such discrimination or hate speech. The law on retirement benefits specifically excludes same-sex couples from benefits granted to heterosexual couples.
Within the LGBTQI+ community, the transgender community faced the most stigmatization and discrimination. Transgender women arrested or detained by police were placed in detention facilities for men, where they faced harassment and violence from other detainees.