Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of a person, including spousal rape and domestic or intimate partner violence. 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, although the law permits lower sentences in cases where there are exceptionally extenuating circumstances or a significant lack of evidence. Actual sentences were generally lenient, averaging three years. Judges often used questionable methods, including forcing confrontations between survivors and alleged perpetrators, to assess the credibility of survivors. Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to court data acquired by the NGO Women’s Right Center’s (WRC), in 2021 there were 2,176 misdemeanor cases of domestic violence and 282 criminal offenses. The WRC noted that state prosecutors were more likely to opt for lesser charges for the offense. NGOs expressed concern about the security of the courtrooms where survivors were often forced to meet with alleged abusers. NGOs also pointed to inadequate protection of survivors, with protection orders being used in only a limited manner, and a lack of specialized services for sexual violence survivors, women with disabilities, and survivors of child marriages in Roma communities.
In 2021, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated one in three women in the country experienced some form of violence during their lifetime, while UNICEF estimated 12 percent of survivors reported the violence to authorities. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.
Police response to domestic violence was also reported to be substandard, with officers often counseling women to “forgive” their attackers or to “not harm their (the attackers’) job prospects.”
On January 22, a pregnant woman, Zumrita Nerda, age 27, died after allegedly being attacked by her husband over the course of two days in their home. Nerda had previously sought protection for herself and her three minor children. On February 4, the Operational Team for the Fight Against Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women concluded that the Center for Social Work in Bar, the Security Center in Bar, the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Bar, and the Court for Misdemeanors in Budva-Department in Bar collectively were “careless” and “inadequate” in their handling of Nerda’s case. Her husband was arrested and subsequently charged with murder. His trial remained in progress at year’s end.
Domestic violence remained a persistent and serious problem in all communities. The government did not seriously attempt to address the problem. The law permits survivors to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When the abuser and survivor live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights. This was rarely done, and NGOs reported that, as a result of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 restrictive measures, women spent more time with abusers.
Roma and Balkan-Egyptian women often faced increased barriers to escaping domestic violence, including potential condemnation and abandonment by their broader family and loss of access to their children. Apart from the “SOS Hotline Niksic” domestic violence shelter, which offered consultation services in Albanian and Romani, there was a lack of survivor support resources available in either language.
According to NGOs and the ombudsman, women survivors 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 survivors.
The government, in cooperation with the NGO “SOS Hotline Niksic,” operated a free hotline for survivors of family violence. “SOS Hotline Niksic” reported a steady rise in domestic violence cases since 2019, driven by both increased reporting and the economic and psychological stresses of COVID-19. From January to August, they hosted 53 possible survivors of domestic violence (both women and children) in their shelter, a 6 percent increase from the same period in 2021. They provided services to 2,230 persons from January until August, a 13.9 percent increase from the same period in 2021. Similarly, in the first eight months of 2022, the NGO Women’s Safe House’s domestic violence shelter received 86 survivors, up from 75 for the entirety of 2021.
The NGO Women’s Lobby noted that the government did not provide sufficient funding to cover all expenses for either the SOS Human Trafficking hotline or the SOS Domestic violence hotline.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. The government did not seriously attempt to address the problem. 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. Survivors hesitated to report harassment in the workplace 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.
In February an employee of an elementary school in Podgorica filed an official complaint with the then Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the police, accusing the school’s principal of sexual harassment over the course of several months. Following receipt of her complaint, the Misdemeanor Court charged the principal with “insolent behavior” and the ombudsman opened an investigation. The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport allegedly did not respond to the employee’s complaint.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities; however, the government continued to require sterilization of transgender individuals to confer legal recognition of gender identity despite the lack of legal basis for this practice.
Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services: While free health care was available to citizens, health care costs acted as a barrier for noncitizens and those lacking identification documents to access regular prenatal care. NGOs reported Roma and Balkan-Egyptian women often had insufficient access to healthcare education, resulting in high-risk deliveries outside of healthcare institutions. NGOs noted Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women had limited access to gynecologists, obstetricians, or doctors.
Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women able to access these services often reported discriminatory treatment, including verbal harassment. Women outside these communities also reported verbal harassment when accessing reproductive health services. NGOs noted that such harassment was often unreported due to inadequate survivor support mechanisms. NGOs reported that, depending on the location, there was one gynecologist per 5,000 to 8,000 women, which affected women’s access to routine health services during pregnancy and childbirth.
According to a 2021 study by the Centre for Investigative Journalism Montenegro (CIN-CG), women in maternity wards regularly experienced nonconsensual birthing practices, including episiotomies, enemas, abdominal compressions, and shaving of the pubic area.
Although there were no legal barriers to contraception, a 2020 United Nations Population Fund report indicated the country had enacted only 37 percent of legislation and regulations necessary to provide for full and equal access to contraceptive services. According to NGOs, there was a lack of publicly available information and appropriate educational programs, and economic status and restrictions by partners were barriers preventing women from using contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion; however, the government services did not include emergency contraception. NGOs stated that these services were often not tailored to those experiencing sexual violence and that persons performing examinations sometimes lacked the necessary expertise to prepare a valid forensic report. Survivors also often waited up to seven days for an examination, and there was no specialized center for supporting survivors of sexual violence. In October, a gynecologist from the main public health center in Podgorica refused to perform an urgent examination of a rape survivor, stating that he did not have necessary approval to perform the medical examination. This incident provoked widespread criticism by NGOs. The Association of Gynecologists of Montenegro responded by claiming the doctor made a mistake when he refused to examine the patient. The association highlighted the lack of protocols for medical examinations of survivors of rape or sexual violence.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted, however, that women often had trouble 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. Men consequently tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership, sometimes limiting a woman’s options in the cases of domestic violence or divorce. Women continued to experience discrimination in employment, salaries, and access to pension benefits (see section 7.d.).
The Department for Gender Equality, within the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, worked to inform women of their rights, and parliament has a committee on gender equality. Association Spectra noted that the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights does not mention the human rights of transgender, gender nonbinary and intersex persons in its rulebook, as these persons’ rights are not perceived as an integral part of gender equality.
The government has a 2021-25 strategy on gender equality. The 2020 Gender Equality Index for Montenegro (55) is 12 points below the EU-28 average (67.4), mostly relating to insufficient political and social participation of women, economic inequality, and unequal division of responsibilities. Difficulties remain, notably in relation to women’s access to work, vocational training, employment, and working conditions; they also remain underrepresented in political and economic decision making. Roma and Balkan-Egyptian women as well as women in rural areas of the north continued to face discrimination and barriers to employment.
Throughout the year women political figures were the target of public, misogynistic insults, and occasional death threats, both online and in comments by public figures. For example, in March, member of parliament Dragica Sekulic was the target of sexist insults online following her criticism of inconsistency in proposed maternity benefits. A Facebook page, Volim Podgorica, generated hundreds of comments criticizing Sekulic based on her gender. NGOs, some political parties, and members of parliament criticized the comments, but they remained online for several days, in contravention of the Media Law, which stipulates that online portals must remove hateful comments within one hour of learning of their existence.
According to Romani rights NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The government did not enforce the laws protecting members of racial or ethnic minorities against violence effectively. The Law on Minority Rights and Freedoms ensures the protection of human rights and freedoms guaranteed to all citizens, including protection of the right to publicly manifest national, ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic identity. Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination. The groups had limited access to social services due to a lack of required government documentation. The Law on Citizenship and its accompanying regulations make obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or for those individuals born outside of a hospital. Access to health care services, including childbirth, remained challenging for members of these communities due to their lack of medical-care cards. The NGO Phiren Amenca-Walk With Us identified 198 adults and 216 children in one Roma settlement in Podgorica without legal status, many of whom were at risk of becoming stateless. During the year the NGO provided legal and financial assistance to 80 Roma persons and assisted those who needed help in requesting personal documentation.
According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained higher than for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians lived in informal settlements that often lacked services such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal. NGOs reported that several Romani neighborhoods did not have running water, which prevented, for example, the Vreli Ribnicki Romani community from complying with health recommendations. The NGO Young Roma stated that one of the biggest problems for the Romani community living in informal settlements was the risk of eviction, especially in the southern part of the country. According to the NGO Center for the Affirmation of Roma and Egyptian Population, the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian population, particularly children, faced discrimination during schooling, problems arising from unresolved legal status, lack of employment opportunities, and poor housing (also see section 6, Children, Education).
According to a 2022 study by the NGOs Center for Roma Initiatives and CIN-CG, Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians faced discrimination in the labor market, including through racial discrimination, the use of short-term, insecure job contracts, and comparatively lower wages than the public.
The government claimed to have implemented the Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptians 2021-2025, and adopted an Action Plan for 2022-2023, but according to the NGOs the working group for monitoring its implementation met rarely.
Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northeastern parts of the country also frequently alleged they were victims of discrimination by the government and argued they suffered from economic neglect.
Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those groups. NGOs, legal observers, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.
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. Birth registration was provided on a nondiscriminatory basis. There are no differences in birth registration between girls and boys. 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. NGOs asserted 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. Enrollment in secondary education starts at the ages of 14 or 15. NGOs reported that the end of elementary education represented one of the most vulnerable moments for Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children, especially girls, since without school attendance monitoring, children were vulnerable to underage marriages. A 2021 UNICEF study on Multidimensional Child Poverty in Montenegro noted that children in rural areas faced additional hurdles to educational access in comparison to their peers in urban areas, and that Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children continued to experience additional barriers to accessing education. The study noted a lack of clothing and shoes needed to attend school, as well as social stigma and shame, were among the difficulties faced by poorer children in accessing education.
A Center for Roma Initiatives study exploring the reasons for low enrollment in school specifically among the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian population similarly cited the inability of some parents to provide children with appropriate attire or money for lunch and snacks. The study also noted Roma and Balkan-Egyptian students faced challenges such as the inability of children to integrate into peer groups due to discrimination, family migration, language barriers, and low achievement partially due to low expectations from teaching staff. High unemployment rates among Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children who graduated from secondary school were common. For Roma and Balkan-Egyptian girls, education was sometimes pejoratively associated with the postponement of marriage (See section 6, Children, Child, Early, and Forced Marriage).
Roma NGOs claimed that there were serious shortcomings in the quality of education that Roma children received, and that a significant number of Roma children had problems with basic literacy. Parents of Roma and Egyptian students noted the government occasionally failed to provide transportation for their children to school, even when their children were required to attend schools further from their homes as part of government integration efforts.
Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from a year in prison for violence without a weapon to 12 years’ imprisonment for actions that result in the victim’s death; however, severe penalties were rarely imposed and short prison stays, suspended sentences, or small fines were the norm.
The law prescribes that a perpetrator of sexual offenses against a minor be punished by a fine or maximum two years of imprisonment for illicit sexual activity committed against a child; imprisonment for two to 10 years if the act caused grievous bodily injures to the child or if the act was committed by several persons or in a particularly cruel or degrading manner. If, as a result of the act, the child died, the perpetrator is punishable by imprisonment for a term between three and 15 years.
Child, 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 a court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally due to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.
Child marriage continued to be a serious problem in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of Romani girls and one in six Romani boys between ages 15 and 19 were married. There continued to be reports of underage girls being sold into “traditional” or “arranged” marriages without their consent, including to persons in neighboring countries. 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, grooming, or using children for commercial exploitation, including child sex trafficking, including acts involving child pornography. The government partially enforced the law. 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. Authorities enforced the law. According to the government’s 2022 Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment, the availability of child sexual abuse material online increased.
In her January report on the country, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, including Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and other Child Sexual Abuse Material, noted that children in transit, including asylum seekers, migrant children, and refugees were at risk of exploitation. According to the report, there were allegations of children trafficked for sexual exploitation in clubs, hotels, and yachts along the coast. The lack of adequate, systemic, centralized, and disaggregated data on child sexual exploitation was a persistent challenge.
In August police reported that from 2016 to 2022 they discovered nine cases of child pornography. The police stated that they filed nine criminal charges and seized more than 400,000 photos and videos of children being sexually abused.
Institutionalized Children: During the year there was one institution dedicated to orphaned children with disabilities, the Small Group Community Home for Children with Developmental Disabilities, in Bijelo Polje, where nine children resided. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the home was organized to emulate a family environment, with children staying in “family groups,” based on their age and gender. Children were integrated into local communities, attended school, and engaged in sports and other activities.
The Jewish community population was estimated to be approximately 400 to 500 individuals. There were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: There are no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or so-called cross-dressing.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: In July unknown persons defaced the premises of the LGBTQI Drop-In Center in Podgorica with homophobic and antisemitic graffiti, including the phrase “Death to (homophobic slur)” and swastikas. Following the attack, the president of the board of directors for the NGO Queer Montenegro, Danijel Kaludjerovic, received death threats. The center came under attack again in December when six young men, mostly underage, threatened the staff and clients of the center and damaged the premises with metal bars. After the incident, Juventas, the NGO that manages the center, called on “the public, decision makers, and the international community” to make efforts “to stop the increasing hatred and intolerance, which have become part of everyday life in Montenegro.”
Discrimination: The law forbids incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government partially enforced the law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons enjoy some degree of societal acceptance; however, discrimination and abuse are prevalent. Anti-LGBTQI+ bias is an aggravating circumstance in the prosecution of hate crimes.
In June, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress filed a lawsuit against the government for discriminatory application of the Law on Same-Sex Partnership, which prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages conducted abroad.
The sole LGBTQI+ shelter, previously run by LGBT Forum Progress, closed in January due to a lack of funding. During the decade of its operation, the shelter provided immediate housing and protection to more than 200 economically dependent LGBTQI+ persons who were rejected by their families.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The government continued to require sterilization, gender-affirming surgery, and compulsory divorce if married as prerequisites for transgender individuals seeking legal gender recognition. There is no option for legal recognition of nonbinary gender identity.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There is no ban on involuntary or coercive so-called conversion therapy practices on the grounds of LGBTQI+ identities or sexual orientation. During the year there were no reported instances of forced or involuntary conversion therapy to authorities; however, stigma and discrimination may limit individuals’ willingness or ability to report.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no restrictions on the rights of LGBTQI+ persons to freedom of expression, association, or peaceful assembly.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. According to UNDP, persons with disabilities often faced a lack of access to information on government support resources, including the right to a disability assessment and professional rehabilitation. Persons with disabilities also frequently faced lengthy delays in receiving government assistance.
Authorities generally enforced the legal 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. The government offered subsidies to employers who hired persons with disabilities, including supplementing salaries and offering funds for workplace accommodations. However, persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination.
Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to file charges against persons or institutions 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 Youths with Disabilities noted that the failure of the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities to hold any session during the year led to a lack of institutional mechanisms for persons with disabilities to engage with the government and their subsequent exclusion from decision-making processes.
According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. There continued to be a lack of centralized data on the total number of children with disabilities. 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 often did not respect this right. Paid leave was not ensured to some parents of children with disabilities. There were no daycare centers available specifically for children with disabilities.
The government made efforts to enable students 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 reported that no child with a disability was admitted to a gymnasium, a type of preparatory school for students seeking postsecondary education.
NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities, as these services are not required under the law. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the schooling of children with disabilities, many of whom remained without adequate teaching assistance.
Persons with disabilities were often institutionalized or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities also had difficulty obtaining high-quality medical devices through health and social insurance to facilitate their mobility.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination: The NGOs Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV and AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records discouraged many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment.