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Albania

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and laws prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect those prohibitions. As of August, the Office of the Ombudsman had received 30 citizen complaints against local Inspectorates for the Protection of Territory and nine against the National Inspectorate for the Protection of Territory (NIPT), which regulate construction, domestic development, and water resources. The Office of the Ombudsman noted there was an increase in the number of complaints for illegal, irregular, or overdue actions of local and national inspectorates. Residents in Shkoza complained that NIPT had begun to demolish their properties even though they had already started the legalization process. Some of them had documents showing legal title to the property but had not received compensation when the demolition started. The Albanian Islamic Community received similar complaints from frustrated citizens due to a lack of results in receiving compensation from the process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants, especially in southern Albania.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum. UNHCR received only one report of violence. It shared the report with the government, which took measures to address the complaint.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. As of August 23, authorities had detained approximately 67 migrants, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children.

Through July, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 2,328 asylum seekers, including 184 boys and 105 girls, in the National Center for Asylum Seekers in the Babrru open detention center. UNHCR reported there were 2,947 asylum seekers in total through August, more than 50 percent of all migrants tracked passing through the country.

In-country Movement: To receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees had employment opportunities.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government does not have reliable data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country.

In July, UNHCR and its partner, the Tirana Legal Aid Society, published a report mapping the population at risk of statelessness in the country. The report identified 1,031 persons at risk of statelessness, 97 percent of whom were children. The report concluded that most of those at risk of statelessness were entitled to nationality under the law on citizenship, but exercising this right was difficult. Most of the persons at risk were Roma or Balkan-Egyptian children. Unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families were at risk of statelessness, although the law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and criminalizes spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

In spite of legal protections for victims, abuses and allegations of political cover-up still occurred. For example, Xhisiela Maloku alleged that Rexhep Rraja, her boyfriend and son of Socialist Party Assembly member Rrahman Rraja, had burned and kicked her in a hotel on July 19. Forensic experts verified the nature of the wounds. Maloku later claimed she fabricated the allegations because she was jealous, but members of the opposition Democratic Party asserted Rrahman Rraja had pressured police to force Maloku to recant, citing claims by former police officer Emiliano Nuhu. The opposition also alleged the police covered up Rexhep Rraja’s sexual assault of Maloku. The judge in the case approved the prosecutor’s request to proceed to trial. Rexhep Rraja is in pretrial detention.

On July 23, the Assembly amended the law on domestic violence to extend protection to victims in an active relationship or civil union. The amendments created a protective order that automatically protects children as well.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. For example, in August 2017, Judge Fildez Kasemi was fatally shot by her ex-husband in Shkoder, even as she was seeking a protection order for abuse. As of December, the ex-husband, Fadil Kasemi, was on trial for murder.

A 2017 UN Development Program (UNDP) and state statistical agency (INSTAT) report estimated that more than 53 percent of women and girls in the country had been victims of domestic violence during the previous year and stated that more than 60 percent reported they had been victims of violence at some point in their lives. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases.

The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and three shelters for victims of human trafficking that accommodated victims of domestic violence as well.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($741) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($5,550) against enterprises.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Women were under-represented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. In one case, a 55-year-old woman complained in May to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (CPD), alleging the Vlora prison director fired her because of her age and gender. The CPD ruled in August the woman had been subjected to discrimination based on gender but not on age, recommended the prison rescind her dismissal, and hire her back. The prison did not hire her back, so the CPD imposed a fine.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to INSTAT, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2017 was 109 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.

The government issued an order before the beginning of the academic year providing that children from first to the fourth grade would receive free books if they returned them at the end of the school year. It was not clear whether parents would pay a fine if the books were returned damaged. Some NGOs expressed concern that this would place a greater burden on families receiving economic aid, especially in the Romani community.

Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was increasing, especially in schools. According to a national survey taken in 2013, the last year for which data was made available, by the UNDP and INSTAT, 57.7 percent of children surveyed said they had experienced violence at some point in their lives from at least one family member. According to a 2017 report by World Vision, 70 percent of children in the country reported experiencing some type of violence. The definition of violence in both these surveys included psychological violence, and was not limited to physical abuse. Services for abuse victims were not readily available.

On September 23, the Council of Europe commissioner on human rights reported her concern about the high levels of physical and psychological violence against children, including in educational settings and at home.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to data released by the INSTAT, the number of early marriages (younger than the age of 19) decreased significantly in 2017 from 2016.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that, as of July, three children had been sexually exploited, but there were no cases involving pornography.

Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.

The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that, as of June, authorities had assisted 109 street children. Some 67 children were referred to shelters. CPUs reported 422 cases of economic exploitation of children through June.

Institutionalized Children: UNHCR considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open migrant facility in Babrru.

According to a September report from the Council of Europe commissioner on human rights, approximately 700 children lived in public and private residential care institutions, some of them for long periods, without a clear prospect for leaving the institution before they became adults.

Some NGOs raised concerns about the transparency of the treatment of children who were under state residential care. Media outlets reported several instances of teachers physically abusing children in state residential institutions, and several incidents were filmed and broadcast. In one case, a news broadcast aired a video of staff of the Vlora residential center abusing children. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection fired the staff members involved and referred the case for prosecution.

The law allows for moving children out of residential centers and into the care of foster families, but the government and the municipalities have not used this option frequently.

The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children. According to the NGO Terre des Hommes, as of July, 17 children were in pretrial detention and nine were incarcerated.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Reports indicate that there were only 40 to 50 Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law. During the year, the government adapted the premises of 80 health care facilities and 32 schools, and built eight new schools, to accommodate persons with disabilities.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.

The government opened two new development centers for persons with disabilities in Pogradec and Bulqiza, supported by the UNDP, and three day-care centers for children with disabilities in Pogradec, Saranda, and Permet.

The Office of the Ombudsman inspected only a few mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to inadequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.

The Municipality of Tirana transferred 76 Romani families evicted from the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood to permanent housing in the final week of December 2017. Unemployment remained a problem and resulted in some of these families’ failure to pay utility bills.

In October 2017, the government adopted legislation on minorities, but the Assembly has not passed implementing legislation and regulations. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The new legislation provides minority language education and dual official language use for local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside, or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. Early in the year, the Assembly amended the law on social housing to include members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community as beneficiaries under the law. Debate over the bill in the Assembly was marred by homophobic remarks by some members. In 2017 the Assembly adopted two amendments concerning free legal aid and sports participation that also benefited the LGBTI community.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate-crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for LGBTI rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. For example, a mufti in Librazhd posted an article in an online portal criticizing one of the LGBTI NGOs that organized antibullying classes in various schools, calling the NGO a “cancer.” The mufti asked education institutions to prevent members of the LGBTI community from entering schools. The CPD sent a letter to the Albanian Islamic Community urging it to help prevent this sort of attack from recurring. Social and traditional media criticized the antibullying campaign, instead accusing the LGBTI community of attempting to influence young people inappropriately.

As of September, Aleanca, an NGO advocating for the LGBTI community, documented 34 cases of physical violence against community members. In one case, police asked the victim, a transgender woman, to withdraw the report; two weeks later, the perpetrator attacked her again, sending her to the hospital. The NGO Streha reported that many young LGBTI individuals had experienced domestic violence upon coming out.

As of August, the CPD had received two complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. The CPD ruled against the complainants in both cases.

The NGO PINK reported it had handled approximately 20 cases of LGBTI persons seeking asylum in other countries, citing domestic violence as the main reason.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported that discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS was widespread in the country.

Angola

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

The government sometimes cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. As of November 16, UNHCR reported that security forces expelled or voluntarily repatriated an estimated 450,000 irregular migrants. The overwhelming majority of these individuals were Congolese whom authorities expelled or voluntarily repatriated to the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On October 25, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the government for creating a humanitarian crisis due to the massive influx of people crossing into the unstable Kasai region of the DRC. UNHCR reported that security forces refouled 2,200 registered Congolese refugees as part of the expulsions or voluntarily repatriations. There were other reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the DRC. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On September 25, security forces began Operation Transparency, a security campaign directed at irregular migrants working in the diamond-mining region in the northern part of the country. The operation resulted in the expulsion or voluntary repatriation of an estimated 450,000 Congolese irregular migrants and smaller numbers of primarily West African migrants from the country. Multiple sources report security forces committed abuses against these migrants during the campaign.

On November 6, security forces began the nationwide campaign Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign focused on addressing criminality and unlicensed commercial activity. Following a 2016 visit, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, issued a report criticizing the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Crepeau cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and state discrimination against those communities. At year’s end the asylum law remained unimplemented.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 more than 32,000 Congolese, primarily women and children, fled the Kasai region of the DRC and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province. During the early days of the refugee influx, the government was the sole provider of life-saving assistance, including food and medical care. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted the Kasai refugees prima facie status, despite repeated requests from UNHCR.

Refoulement: On November 16, UNHCR reported the government had forcibly returned 2,200 registered Congolese refugees since the beginning of Operation Transparency on September 25. On February 25-27, the government forcibly returned 52 registered and 480 unregistered Congolese refugees, including 217 children, to the Kasai region of the DRC despite continued reports of violence and inadequate humanitarian conditions in that region. Congolese provincial government leaders made several visits to Lunda Norte during the year and reportedly pressured refugees to return to the DRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function during the year. The 2015 asylum law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, at year’s end the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees themselves reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated their registration documents during periodic round ups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. A general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard compounded the difficulties.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse. According to a survey conducted by the country’s National Statistics Institute, one in every five women suffered domestic physical violence “frequently or from time to time” during the year and 31 percent of women ages 15-49 reported experiencing domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations they practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative impact on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions.

The Ministry of Social Assistance, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial government information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately, and activists reported many urban and rural children remained undocumented. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries collocated in maternity hospitals in five provinces and the training of midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent government conversion into official birth certificates.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the sixth grade, but students often faced significant additional expenses such as books or fees paid to education officials. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse. A 2012 law significantly improved the legal framework protecting children, but problems remained in its implementation and enforcement.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage in lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding child prostitution. The law does not prohibit the use, procurement, offering, and financial benefit of a child for the production of pornography and pornographic performances. The law does not criminally prohibit either the distribution or the possession of child pornography. On September 19, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the Association for the Reintegration of Children and Youth in Social Life (SCARJoV), a local NGO, and INAC launched a digital public platform to allow anonymous reporting of images and videos of child pornography and sexual abuse. SCARJoV and IWF explained that experts based in the United Kingdom would scrutinize the video and images, remove them from the internet, and refer suspected cases of abuse to local law enforcement.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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 travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 500 persons, primarily resident Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities. In 2016 the Law of Accessibilities entered into force, requiring changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities, but civil society organizations and persons with disabilities reported the government failed to enforce the law and significant barriers to access remained.

On April 22, the Platform for Inclusion, an activist group for persons with disabilities, held a protest in Luanda to raise awareness of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Police, however, intercepted and forbade demonstrators in wheelchairs from using placards and continuing on the planned route. According to Amnesty International, police subjected the protesters to violence. A member of the Platform for Inclusion, Adao Ramos, criticized the government for failing to implement the Law of Accessibilities and provide adequate protection for persons with disabilities. According to police, they halted the protest because the Platform for Inclusion did not comply with the legal requirement to inform authorities 72 hours in advance of a protest.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

On August 23, the National Association of University Students with Disabilities (ANEUD) filed a complaint with the PGR alleging discrimination against students with disabilities in violation of the law. Micael Daniel, the president of ANEUD, stated the Ministry of Education failed to reserve the required 4 percent of university public education slots for persons with special needs during an open competition for university slots. At year’s end the PGR continued to investigate the case.

Indigenous People

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. The estimated 14,000 San lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards, according to a credible NGO. The government permitted businesses and well-connected elites to take traditional land from the San.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. During the year the government formally registered Association Iris Angola, the country’s first LGBTI rights NGO. Also during the year, one of the former president’s children announced publicly that he was gay.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The association continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with the condition or disease. There were no news reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients.

Armenia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the rights to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Law enforcement organizations did not always abide by these prohibitions.

Authorities may not legally wiretap telephones, intercept correspondence, or conduct searches without obtaining the permission of a judge based on compelling evidence of criminal activity. The constitution, however, stipulates exceptions when confidentiality of communication may be restricted without a court order when necessary to protect state security and conditioned by the special status of those in communication. Although law enforcement bodies generally adhered to legal procedures, attorneys claimed judges often authorized wiretaps, the interception of correspondence, and searches without receiving the compelling evidence required by law, rendering the legal procedures largely a formality.

Before the May change in government, there were numerous reports of authorities tapping telephone communications, email, and other digital communications of individuals the government wanted to keep under scrutiny, including human rights defenders, activists, and political figures. According to some human rights observers, authorities maintained “dossiers” of activists, political figures, and others that were used to exert pressure on a person. Following the “velvet revolution,” many activists and human rights defenders expressed their belief that they were no longer under surveillance.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: While there was no systematic discrimination reported against migrants, refugees, or stateless persons, there were reports of discrimination in the acceptance of applications and in detention of asylum seekers based on the country of origin, race, or religion of the asylum seeker, as well as difficulties with integration.

During the year, 28 foreigners were apprehended for illegal entry after crossing the border via land or air or arriving at the International Airport in Yerevan, an increase from four in 2017. Unlike the previous practice, when authorities detained and sentenced asylum seekers for illegal entry into the country after registering their asylum applications, in a few cases asylum seekers were released from detention. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. Two asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who were detained for illegal border crossing in 2015 and sentenced to three years in prison, were released early and accommodated at a reception center for asylum seekers in mid-September. They were under supervision with mandatory reporting requirements between mid-September and October 6, when the sentence expired.

Foreign Travel: Citizens must obtain exit visas to leave the country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Citizens could routinely purchase exit visas for temporary travel outside the country within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams (two dollars) for each year of validity.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As of 2016, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 8,400 IDPs of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in 1988-94 were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and former refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law takes into account specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians needed three years of legal residence in the country to be naturalized.

While the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved over the last decade, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious and gender profiles. Security considerations permeated all aspects of the asylum procedure and implementation of refugee policies and the NSS continued to influence asylum decision making by the State Migration Service (SMS).

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included limited state funding for interpreters and deficiencies in capacity of eligibility officers. Enhanced capacity of the judiciary resulted in an increased number of overruled SMS decisions on asylum applications. For the first time since 2009, the Administrative Court issued a judgment overruling an SMS denial of refugee status to a family from Iraq and obliging the SMS to recognize the applicants as refugees. In general, the courts drew more attention to the merit of asylum applications and used country of origin information more systematically.

Authorities continued to offer ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens.

Access to Basic Services: Conditions in the only reception center for asylum seekers were below international standards, according to one international NGO, and did not address the needs of persons with specific needs and disabilities. With an increased number of asylum seekers during the year, many from Iran and Afghanistan, the reception center’s capacity was exhausted and there was no alternative solution for accommodation of persons with specific needs and large families. Additionally, the center allegedly did not provide clean lodging, adequate sanitary facilities, or sufficient food and medicine, leading to the prevalence of illness and communicable disease. Many refugees were also unable to work or receive an education while their cases worked their way through the legal system.

Housing allocated to refugees was often in limited supply and in poor condition and remained, along with employment, their greatest concern. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. Authorities operated an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences with Syrian-Armenian refugees who spoke a different dialect created barriers to employment and, initially, education.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government adopted a concept document outlining its goals concerning the integration of persons granted asylum and refugee status as well as of long-term migrants. According to UNHCR, while in principle the concept would enhance the legal framework for the protection of refugees, it did not go far enough to cover Syrians who had obtained citizenship, thus excluding from the provision of services the majority of displaced Syrians who had arrived in country since the beginning of the conflict. The concept also did not address critical aspects of integration, such as language needs and access to education. The Ministry of Diaspora drafted an integration strategy focused on Syrian-Armenians displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. UNHCR promoted and advocated for a single policy and comprehensive integration strategy to facilitate integration of all refugees and other displaced persons without discrimination. While the government approved an initial concept on local integration, full implementation remained pending. NGOs partially filled the gap with UNHCR and international donor funding.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to police data, the number of stateless persons by October 29 was 801. The increase was believed to be related to the rising number of citizens renouncing their Armenian citizenship with the aim of obtaining citizenship elsewhere, particularly in the Russian Federation. In addition, authorities considered approximately 1,400 refugees from Azerbaijan to be stateless as of December 2017.

The law provides for the provision of nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; general rape statutes applied to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence, although authorities did not effectively investigate or prosecute most allegations of domestic violence. Domestic violence against women was widespread.

There were reports that police, especially outside Yerevan, were reluctant to act in such cases and discouraged women from filing complaints. According to some NGOs representatives, in cases when a woman alleged rape, she was sometimes questioned about her previous sexual experience and subjected to a “virginity test.” In a few cases, if the rape victim was not a virgin, police would dismiss the allegation as unimportant. A majority of domestic violence cases were considered under the law as offenses of low or medium seriousness, and the government did not hire enough female police officers and investigators for field work to address these crimes.

Between 2010 and 2017, the NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women recorded the killing of 50 women by an existing or former partner or by a family member. Information on enforcement actions regarding these killings was unavailable by year’s end. In a high profile case, on November 12, 20-year-old Kristine Iskandaryan was beaten to death by her husband. After police learned her husband previously had battered her he confessed and was detained. In the first six months of the year, nine women were killed under such circumstances, but no information became available about whether their cases were investigated.

The Investigative Committee reported investigating 258 cases of domestic violence in the first half of the year, up from 215 in the same period in 2017. Most of the cases were of women abused by a husband or male domestic partner. During the same period, 259 persons were recognized as victims of domestic violence, of which 33 were minors.

NGOs that promoted women’s rights were criticized mostly online for breaking up “Armenian traditional families” and spreading “Western values.”

On July 1, the December 2017 Law on Prevention of Family Violence, Protection of Persons Subjected to Family Violence, and the Restoration of Family Cohesion went into effect. In a March 29 letter to the government, two UN special rapporteurs and a UN working group expressed concerns about the law, including that it is not strong enough to protect those facing domestic violence and that a number of its provisions could contravene the right of women victims of violence to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and could hinder their right to justice and to effective remedies for the harm they had suffered.

According to NGOs, the government lacked resources for the full implementation of the law. Police officers began a training program but did not have adequate training or will to apply the law to perpetrators. There was only one shelter for victims, which did not have the capacity to serve all victims. After the May change in government, NGOs reported the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs took concrete steps to increase cooperation, such as such as funding a second shelter in one of the regions and allowing NGOs to post information on its website.

Several members of parliament continued to voice disapproval of the law, with Tsarukyan bloc member Gevorg Petrosyan calling it an instrument that could be used by “freedom loving women” to get rid of their husbands and “fulfil their fantasies outside of the family.”

Some female politicians, as well as human rights and environmental activists, were subject to gender-biased posts and discriminatory comments in social media.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace was widespread and was not adequately addressed by the government, which did not have a functioning, all-encompassing labor inspectorate or other avenues to report such harassment.

On February 13, Marina Khachatryan, a Yerevan city council member from the opposition Yerkir Tsirani (Apricot Land) party, brought a glass filled with a sample of sewer water that was leaking from the Nubarashen prison into a residential area to a council session. Khachatryan attempted to present the sewer water to then mayor Taron Margaryan to raise awareness of city residents’ complaints that the sewage was harming their community. At Margaryan’s instigation, however, other male council members and staff assaulted Khachatryan, beating and manhandling her while threatening her and using sexual insults. Members of the then ruling Republican Party of Armenia said the response was justified and did not condemn the violence. Law enforcement bodies opened a criminal investigation.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status, but discrimination based on gender was a continuing problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation and employment. Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches and at all levels of government.

The government took no tangible action on a 2015 World Bank study that examined teaching materials and textbooks of high school classes and found the books gave strong preference to men in all forms of representation, including texts and illustrations, while women were less visible or portrayed in stereotypical way.

According to the World Bank 2016 Armenia Country Gender Assessment, the labor market participation gap between men and women was approximately 17 percent. Despite a significant decline in the difference in earnings between men and women, women still earned on average 36 percent less than men. There were few women leaders in the private sector, including in managerial and entrepreneurial positions.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Statistical Service, the boy to girl ratio at birth decreased from 114 to 100 in 2014 to 110 to 100 in 2017. The law requires doctors to question women on their motives for seeking an abortion and refuse those driven by gender selection concerns.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. A centralized system generated a medical certificate of birth to make avoidance of birth registration almost impossible. A low percentage of registered births occurred mainly in Yezidi and Kurdish communities practicing homebirths.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade 12, in practice it was not universal. Children from disadvantaged families and communities lacked access to early learning programs, despite government efforts to raise preschool enrollment. According to National Statistics Service, in 2017 nationwide preschool enrolment for children younger than five was 29 percent, but only 17 percent for children in rural communities. Many remote rural communities, especially those with population less than 400, did not have preschools. Enrollment and attendance rates for children from ethnic minority groups, in particular Yezidis, Kurds, and Molokans, were significantly lower than average, and dropout rates after the ninth grade were higher. UNICEF expressed concern about the integration into the local community of an increasing number of refugee children from Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine because of lack of proper support for addressing cultural and linguistic barriers.

According to the Prison Monitoring Group, in the beginning of the year seven juveniles did not have access to education in the Abovyan Penitentiary while they were detained or serving a prison sentence. By December, however, that number had decreased to two.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF, the lack of official, unified data on violence against children limited the government’s ability to design adequate national responses and preventive measures. There were no official referral procedures for children who were victims of violence, including sexual violence, and referrals were not mandatory for professionals working with children, except for doctors who are required to report any injury of children to police.

The law outlines the roles and responsibilities of police and social services in the early identification and response to violence against children in the family. Although the law went into effect on July 1, the government continued to lack services for victims of domestic violence including women and children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Early marriage of girls was reportedly more frequent within Yezidi communities, but the government took no measures to document the scale or address the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children and provides for prison sentences of seven to 15 years for violations. Child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography noted in a February 2016 report that although official statistics showed relatively few cases of sexual exploitation and sale of children, there were numerous undetected and unreported cases caused by gaps in terms of legislation, training, awareness-raising, detection, and reporting.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF and other observers, institutionalized children were at risk of physical and psychological violence by peers and by staff. According to a February 2017 Human Rights Watch report, government policies on deinstitutionalization and inclusive education did not provide rights and benefits to children with disabilities on an equal basis with other children and were discriminatory.

In December 2017 the family code was amended to allow for more family-based alternatives for institutionalized children, such as diversification of foster care and improved provisions on adoption; the amendments entered into force in the middle of the year, resulting in a quadrupling in state funding for foster care. Transformation of residential institutions for children in difficult life circumstances and those without parental care also continued. With the exception of children with disabilities, the number of institutionalized children continued to decrease.

UNICEF expressed concern about inhuman and degrading treatment of persons with disabilities in institutions, including children with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities in specialized institutions, as well as neglect and the use of physical restraints as means of treatment and punishment. There was also concern about the inefficiency and inadequacy of the complaints systems and the lack of monitoring of institutions. There were reports on social media that the government’s closure of boarding schools without the timely establishment of proper alternative social care services and provision of basic necessities jeopardized children’s well-being and access to education.

According to the NGO United Methodist Committee on Relief, deinstitutionalized children in the country were more at risk of being involved in forced begging, forced labor, and trafficking and of being subjected to violence at home. The NGO relayed at least one case where a deinstitutionalized child was forced to beg by his stepfather. The NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women reported that, after a child was placed with a host family, the government ceased any real oversight over the child and the family.

In one Yezidi-populated village, parents complained of discrimination by school teachers and a principal toward their children. They also alleged that the school principal and teachers (who were not ethnically part of the Yezidi community) failed to provide children with quality, public education and reportedly used ethnic slurs against the Yezidis.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population at between 500 and 1,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, although after the “velvet revolution” some anti-Semitic comments appeared in social media smearing government representatives and activists. The government did not respond to these slurs.

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 any disability in employment, education, and access to health care and other state services, but discrimination remained a problem. The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those under renovation, including schools, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Very few buildings or other facilities were accessible, even if newly constructed or renovated. Many public buildings, including schools and kindergartens, were inaccessible. This inaccessibility also deterred persons with disabilities from voting, since these buildings often served as polling stations during elections. According to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation report on the December 9 snap parliamentary elections, 71 percent of polling stations observed were not accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

Although the law on general education provides for a transition from general education to inclusive education for children with disabilities by 2025, and despite the increasing trend towards inclusive education, many children with disabilities remained in segregated educational settings and did not have access to inclusive education. Many NGOs reported schools lacked physical accessibility and accessible learning materials and made limited effort to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities in mainstream schools. In addition, teachers did not receive adequate training on inclusive education.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but prior to May failed to carry out this mandate effectively. For example, in September 2017, the government approved a decision to issue vouchers to persons with disabilities to purchase hearing aids and wheelchairs, instead of providing the actual devices. There were reports, however, the vouchers failed to cover the market price of hearing aids and wheelchairs, resulting in financial strain on the persons who needed them.

Persons with all types of disabilities experienced discrimination in every sphere, including access to health care, social and psychological rehabilitation, education, transportation, communication, employment, social protection, cultural events, and use of the internet. Lack of access to information and communications was a particularly significant problem for persons with sensory disabilities. Women with disabilities faced further discrimination, including in social acceptance and access to health and reproductive care, employment, and education, due to their gender.

Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

Disability status determines eligibility for various social benefits. Media reports alleged corruption and arbitrary rulings on the part of the Medical-Social Expertise Commission, a governmental body under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that determines a person’s disability status. In 2016, the National Security Service arrested and charged the head of the commission, Armen Soghoyan, and 16 other officials with soliciting bribes. The trial of the case was ongoing as of year’s end.

By the year’s end, the Investigative Committee opened 92 criminal cases for corrupt practices in the social security (including disability pensions) provision offices. The committee brought charges against 50 persons.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws do not extend protections to LGBTI persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

During the year the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) documented 15 cases of alleged human rights violations against LGBTI persons, but only four victims sought help from the ombudsperson’s office and none from law enforcement bodies. Three cases were sent to court; the fourth one was dropped because the perpetrator committed suicide.

On August 14, police arrested a suspect after several transgender individuals called to report being attacked at a public park. The same day, police released a video of the transgender persons trying to attack the suspect, who was under arrest at the police station, with the narrator indicating that the attackers were guilty of violence against the police. The video included the names and photos of the transgender individuals. Police arrested the two transgender persons in the video. According to the arrestees’ statements, six police officers beat them and held them in handcuffs over a 72-hour period they spent at the police station. Police later released one of the transgender persons. On August 16, the second transgender person was taken to Nubarashen Prison. The prison administration subsequently sent a letter to the prosecutor general’s office stating that, upon admission to prison, the detainee had signs of physical abuse on his body. The detainee was charged with hooliganism (punishable by up to seven years in prison) and violence against authorities (punishable by up to five years in prison). According to SIS, it had launched a criminal case on charges of torture against the police officers who had allegedly beaten the transgender person. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On August 3, while an LGBTI activist was hosting eight friends in his parents’ house in Shurnukh village, a mob of approximately 30 persons attacked them and chased them out of the village, hitting, kicking, and throwing stones at them while yelling insults. Six of the activists were taken to the hospital. The victims reported the attack to police, who opened a criminal case on charges of beating. In December the police dropped the case based on the November Amnesty, although nobody had been charged within the case, although according to PINK Armenia, the names of the perpetrators, allegedly most of the village residents, were known.

On November 6, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and New Generation NGO announced the cancellation of the Forum of LGBT Christians of Eastern Europe and Central Asia to take place in Yerevan November 15-18. The Forum would have brought participants together for networking, discussions, and prayer. After news leaked about the forum, local and Russia-connected bloggers seized on the information to provoke anti-LGBTI sentiment and issue threats of violence and death against the LGBTI community and forum participants. Police officials met with New Generation to discuss security risks facing the organizers and participants. New Generation subsequently cancelled the forum issuing a statement that read in part, “We are deeply distressed and disappointed that political violence, death threats, and vandalism directed at LGBTI people are constituting a genuine threat to the safety of our participants.”

Several international organizations, the Human Rights Defenders Office, and a number of civil society organizations issued statements condemning the violence at Shurnukh. Many more social media posts, however, defended the villagers with messages attacking LGBTI and other minorities. In one Facebook post, Prosperous Armenia parliamentarian Gevorg Petrosyan wrote, “all gays, sectarians, and their defenders should be eradicated from our holy land.”

Openly gay men are exempt from military service. An exemption, however, requires a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual has a mental disorder; this information appears in the individual’s personal identification documents and is an obstacle to employment and obtaining a driver’s license. Gay men who served in the army reportedly faced physical and psychological abuse as well as blackmail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to human rights groups, persons regarded as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, such as sex workers (including transgender sex workers) and drug users, faced discrimination and violence from society as well as mistreatment by police. According to a June UN Human Rights Council report by the rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, stigma and discrimination in health-care settings were major barriers to accessing treatment and services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Azerbaijan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.

While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, prominent youth active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. There were indications the postal service monitored certain mail for politically sensitive subject matter.

Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, and political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. For example, Elnur Seyidov, the brother-in-law of opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli, remained incarcerated since 2012 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated. Murad Adilov, the brother of journalist and Popular Front Party activist Natig Adilov, was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to six years in prison.

There were several examples of the use of politically motivated incarceration of relatives as a means of putting pressure on exiles. For example, in February authorities arrested and sentenced to administrative detention the nephews of exiled activist Ordukhan Temirkhan; some of his other relatives had been sentenced to administrative detention in 2017.

There were also reports authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members inside or outside the country. For example during the year there were reports that Popular Front Party members were fired from their jobs after participating in a peaceful protest.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for at least 20 opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Authorities continued to prevent a number of opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (banned from traveling since 2006), the head of the Republican Alternative Party Assembly, Azer Gasimli, investigative journalist and activist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev, Asabali Mustafayev, and Emin Aslanov, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV. A travel ban was imposed on Republican Alternative Party chairman Ilgar Mammadov following his conditional release from prison on August 13 (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In August authorities lifted the travel ban on human rights activist Ogtay Gulaliyev that had been in place since 2011.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences also were not permitted to travel abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The Azerbaijani State Committee for Refugee and IDP Affairs reported 641,890 registered IDPs in the country, including persons in IDP-like situations, as of year’s end. UNHCR reported 620,422 registered IDPs in the country during the year. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988-93 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

IDPs had access to education and health care, but their unemployment rate was higher than the national average. Some international observers stated the government did not adequately promote the integration of IDPs into society.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were press reports that Turkish citizens were transferred from Azerbaijan to Turkey–where they were detained by Turkish authorities–without due process. Citing Turkish media sources, Turan reported February 22 that Azerbaijani officials facilitated the detention and extradition to Turkey of Ayhan Seferoglu and Erdogan Taylor, both of whom had worked as teachers in Azerbaijan, despite Azerbaijani court rulings in their favor. After his detention, Serfoglu’s Azerbaijani wife reportedly asked the Azerbaijan State Migration Service to grant her husband political asylum; authorities subsequently informed Serfoglu’s Azerbaijani wife that the application had been rejected. Turkish authorities reportedly alleged Seferoglu and Taylor were followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. According to an April 18 Meydan TV report, Azerbaijani authorities also rendered three such Turkish citizens back to Turkey in 2017 in a similar manner.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens who fled the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,131 refugees (a number that includes state-recognized refugees and those recognized as such only by UNHCR) in the country lacked access to social services. Many IDP and refugee children also enrolled at ordinary schools in numerous regions throughout the country.

Temporary Protection: The government did not provide temporary protection to asylum seekers during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. According to the State Migration Service, 291 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship during the year. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azerbaijanis from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and, therefore, remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement within the country. Stateless persons were not, however, issued travel documents or readmitted to Azerbaijan if they left the country. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered their access to these rights.

The constitution allows citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” During the year the government had stripped 85 persons of citizenship. On October 4, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights published a written statement noting the government’s 2015 deprivation of journalist Emin Huseynov’s citizenship should be viewed “as part of a broader pattern of intimidation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.”

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Spousal rape is also illegal, but observers stated police did not effectively investigate such claims.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Activists reported that as a result, police continued to view domestic violence as a family issue and did not effectively intervene to protect victims.

The State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA) continued their activities against domestic violence by conducting public awareness campaigns and working to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors. For example, during the year the SCFWCA organized an awareness campaign against domestic violence as part of a “16 Days against Gender Based Violence” campaign. Activities included the placement of advertising on billboards and public transportation, handing out pamphlets in urban centers, and holding conference with stakeholders to discuss the problem.

The government provided limited protection to women who were victims of assault. The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment. The SCFWCA worked extensively to organize events that raised awareness of sexual harassment and domestic violence. For example, on August 6 and 7, the SCFWCA organized a workshop on combatting domestic violence in Goychay.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, societal and employment-based discrimination was a problem. According to the State Statistical Committee, there was discrimination against women in employment, including wide disparities in pay and higher rates of unemployment.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country during the year was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the SCFWCA. Local experts reported gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home were not registered.

Education: While education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls in the home to work. Social workers stated that some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school.

Child Abuse: While there are penalties for sexual violence against children and child labor, the law does assign punishment for domestic and other violence specifically against children. To address the problem of child abuse, the SCFWCA organized multiple events. Between May and August, the State Committee held meetings with public servants on combatting gender discrimination and child abuse in Sheki, Shamakhi, Gakh, Goygol, Shamkir, Gadabay, Lankaran, Jalilabad, and Lerik.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report, 11 percent of girls in the country were married before their 18th birthday. The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states a boy may marry at the age of 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage as dictated by Islam. In August activists reported the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Lerik and her family’s subsequent plans to marry her to the rapist. According to media reports, authorities did not investigate the case.

The law establishes fines of 3,000 to 4,000 manat ($1,750 to $2,340) or imprisonment for up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with an underage child. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these were not subject to government oversight and do not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Recruitment of minors for prostitution (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by up to eight years in prison. The law prohibits pornography; its production, distribution, or advertisement is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. Statutory rape is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Displaced Children: In past years a large number of internally displaced children lived in substandard conditions and, in some cases, were unable to attend school. Significant government investment in IDP communities has largely alleviated these problems. Some civil society representatives working with street children reported boys and girls at times engaged in prostitution and street begging.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, and mental disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized. A local NGO reported there were approximately 60,000 children with disabilities in the country, of whom 6,000 to 10,000 had access to specialized educational facilities while the rest were educated at home or not at all. The Ministries of Education and Labor and Social Protection of the Population continued efforts to increase the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular classrooms, particularly at the primary education level. No laws mandate access to public or other buildings, information, or communications for persons with disabilities, and most buildings were not accessible. Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

During the year the government funded construction projects to make large sections of downtown Baku’s sidewalks wheelchair accessible. As a result persons with disabilities affecting mobility were better able to navigate the city.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Individuals with Armenian-sounding names were often subjected to additional screening at border crossings and were occasionally denied entrance to the country. Civil society activists stated an entire generation had grown up listening to hate speech against Armenians. Some groups, including Talysh in the south and Lezghi in the north, reported the government did not provide official textbooks in their local native languages.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover LGBTI individuals.

In September 2017 police conducted raids on the LGBTI community, arresting and detaining more than 83 men presumed to be gay or bisexual as well as transgender women. Media and human rights lawyers reported that police beat detainees and subjected them to electric shocks to obtain bribes and information about other gay men. Detainees were released after being sentenced to up to 30 day of administrative detention and/or fined up to 200 manat ($117). During the year some victims of the raids filed cases against state in the ECHR, which remained pending at year’s end.

A local NGO reported there were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible. Men who acknowledged or were suspected of being gay during medical examinations for conscription were subjected to rectal examinations and often found unqualified for military service on the grounds that they were mentally ill. There were also reports of family based violence against LGBTI individuals, hate speech against LGBTI persons, and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts.

Activists reported that LGBTI individuals were regularly fired by employers if their sexual orientation/gender identity became known.

LGBTI individuals generally refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. Activists reported police indifference to investigating crimes committed against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society representatives reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV and AIDS were prevalent throughout society. The government continued to fund an NGO that worked on health issues affecting the LGBTI community.

Bahrain

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informant networks, including ones that targeted or used children younger than 18.

Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to spy on political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee’s family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government did not always respect these rights.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government maintained an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled, although some persons reported the website was not a reliable source of information. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

The government reported that as of September it had lifted all but three of the 102 bans from international travel it issued in 2017. The government most often justified the application of “travel bans” as legitimate by noting they were to prevent the travel of those with pending criminal charges. Many of those previously banned from travel confirmed that their travel bans had been lifted. In previous instances individuals with travel bans believed the bans were imposed to prevent them from attending international human rights-related meetings.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens (see below). There were cases of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid prison time for convictions imposed in their absence.

On November 27, soccer player Hakim al-Arabi was detained in Bangkok when travelling from Australia, where he had resident status as a refugee, to Thailand on vacation. Hakim fled Bahrain in 2014 after being convicted of burning and looting a police station, although human rights organizations claimed he was participating in an international soccer match at the time of the alleged crime. Although Interpol cancelled the “red notice” Bahrain requested for al-Arabi, as of December the decision over his possible extradition to Bahrain remained pending in the Thai legal system.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship in both criminal and political cases, including for natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government had not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizenship revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions. At times it threatened to halt payments of pensions or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued limited-validity passports to a number of individuals whose citizenship it had revoked and deported them, most frequently to Iraq. According to press reports, the Iraqi government complained about the practice to Bahrain officials. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to citizenship revocation, although in 2014 the government instituted an additional requirement that the Ministry of Interior seek cabinet approval before revoking any person’s citizenship. The government did not report how many persons had their citizenship revoked during the year, although most international human rights NGOs placed the number at more than 250 as of August, and more than 700 since 2012.

On May 15, the High Criminal Court revoked the citizenship of 115 citizens in a mass trial of 138 persons on terrorism-related charges. It sentenced 53 of them to life in prison. Activists asserted the trial was unfair, given the accused were all tried en masse, including 52 in absentia. While revocation of citizenship is legal in the country when a person “harms state security,” allegations that confessions were extracted under torture raised questions about the proceedings.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of December, there were 394 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency.

STATELESS PERSONS

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government considers only the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not generally grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in the country to a citizen mother (see section 6, Children). Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father was unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

In 2017 the BCHR issued a report documenting 13 cases of children who had not received citizenship because their fathers were dissidents. As of December the government had granted citizenship to all of the children named in the report, with the exception of Sarah Ali Salman, daughter of prominent Shia cleric and politician Ali Salman (see section 1.d.).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the criminal code allows an alleged rapist to marry his victim to avoid punishment. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment and execution in cases where the victim is a minor younger than 16 or when the rape leads to the victim’s death.

The law states violence against women is a crime, and during the year government leaders and members of parliament participated in awareness-raising activities to include debates on additional legislation. According to reports from the BCHR, 30 percent of women experienced some form of domestic abuse. Authorities devoted little public attention to the problem. The government maintained the Dar al-Aman Shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence, however, reported difficulty knowing whom to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint.

The government increased its documentation and prosecution of physical or sexual abuse of women. The Ministry of Justice reported documenting 3,500 cases of physical or sexual abuse as of September, four times the number of cases in the previous year, of which 257 were cases of sexual abuse. Of these cases, 99 involved children. Of the 3,500 cases, 706 resulted in conviction, 15 times the conviction rate in 2017. Ten cases of rape were reported, one of which was referred to court; proceedings for the case were underway as of September.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: By law “honor” killings are punishable, but the penal code provides a lenient sentence for killing a spouse caught in the act of adultery, whether male or female.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of imprisonment and fines. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreign women domestic workers.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings in religious or civil court, but Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted mothers custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven, with fathers typically gaining custody once girls and boys reached ages nine and seven, respectively. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child until age 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.”

The basis for family law is sharia as interpreted by Sunni and Shia religious experts. In July 2017 King Hamad ratified the Shia portion of the Unified Family Law codifying the rights of Shia citizens, in particular women, according to the civil code on issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia and Sunni family law had been enforced by separate judicial bodies composed of religious authorities charged with interpreting sharia. The new civil law provides access to family courts for all women, ensuring the standardized application of the law and further legal recourse as decisions made by family court judges are subject to review by the Supreme Judicial Council. It was not always clear which courts have jurisdiction in mixed Sunni-Shia marriages.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased also receiving a share. The government respected wills directing the division of assets according to the deceased.

Labor laws prohibit discrimination against women, but discrimination against women was systemic, especially in the workplace, although the law prohibits wage discrimination based on gender (see section 7.d.).

Women experienced gains in government and business. The number of women elected to parliament increased from three to six representatives, and for the first time in the history of the country, the Council of Representatives elected a woman as speaker. In the business sector, women-led entrepreneurial ventures constituted more than half of filings for new businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from their father or by decree from the king. Women do not transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d.).

Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to age three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. Upon reaching three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and is provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although girls and boys used the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The Family Courts established in 2017 have jurisdiction over issues including child abuse. NGOs expressed concern over the lack of consistently written guidelines for prosecuting and punishing offenders and the leniency of penalties in child-abuse-conviction cases in the sharia courts.

There were reports police approached children outside schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 15 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages below these ages with approval from a sharia court.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including prostitution. Penalties include imprisonment of no less than three months if the accused used exploitation and force to commit the crime and up to six years if the accused exploited more than one child, as well as penalties of at least 2,000 dinars ($5,300) for individuals and at least 10,000 dinars ($26,500) for organizations. The law also prohibits child pornography. The Ministry of Justice reported prosecuting 22 cases of sexual exploitation of children as of September, a significant increase over the prior year.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. Some anti-Jewish political commentary and editorial cartoons occasionally appeared in print and electronic media, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without government response.

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 stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and violations of the law are punishable with fines. The government administered a committee to ensure the provision of care for persons with disabilities that included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee is responsible for monitoring violations against persons with disabilities. During the year the government prosecuted two cases for violations against persons with disabilities.

Authorities mandated a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions to support and protect persons with disabilities. New public buildings in the central municipality must include facilities for persons with disabilities. The law does not mandate access to other nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities.

No information was available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, although building codes required all new government building to be accessible. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with disabilities routinely lacked access to education and employment. The sole government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome.

Eligible voters may vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. The local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes posed problems to those with mobility disabilities. General polling stations in public spaces such as malls allowed for assistive devices. There was no absentee ballot system.

The law requires the government to provide vocational training for persons with disabilities who wish to work. The law also requires employers of more than 100 persons to hire at least 2 percent of its employees from the government’s list of workers with disabilities. The government did not monitor compliance. Some persons with disabilities were employed in the public sector.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN High Committee for Persons with Disabilities in cooperation with the UN Development Program.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law grants citizenship to ethnic Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There were numerous reports authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. Human rights and civil society groups stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country less than 15 years to apply for citizenship. There were also reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia residents who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided more than 25 years. Rights groups reported discrimination, especially in employment, against Shia citizens of Persian ethnicity (Ajam).

Although the government asserted the labor code for the private sector applies to all workers, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and international NGOs noted foreign workers faced discrimination in the workplace.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults at least 21 years old, but it does not extend antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred, including in employment and obtaining legal identity documents. In some cases, however, courts permitted transgender individuals to update identity documents if they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no known cases involving societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged publicly that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In prior years the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV/AIDS positive, but the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

Barbados

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government indicated a willingness to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern, but the law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee or asylum claims.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Separate legislation addresses male rape. There are legal protections against spousal rape for women holding a court-issued divorce decree, separation order, or nonmolestation order. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides protection to all members of the family, including men and children. The law applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships. The law empowers police to make an arrest after receiving a complaint, visiting the premises, and having some assurance that a crime was committed, and police made numerous arrests for domestic violence.

Penalties depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) up to the death penalty for cases resulting in death of a victim. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts may sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order.

Violence and abuse against women continued to be significant social problems. Police have a victim support unit, but reports indicated the services provided were inadequate.

There were public and private counseling services for victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse. The government provided funding for a shelter, for women who had faced violence. The shelter also served victims of human trafficking and others forms of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: No law contains penalties specifically for sexual harassment except in the workplace. Human rights activists reported sexual harassment continued to be a serious concern.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, except that Barbadian women not born in Barbados do not transfer citizenship to their children. Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors, although some discrimination persisted. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated that women earned significantly less than men for comparable work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, or to a person born outside the country to a Barbadian mother or father, though there are some exceptions. There was universal birth registration.

Child Abuse: The law does not prohibit violence or abuse against children, and such abuses appeared to be on the rise.

The Child Care Board (CCB) has a mandate for the care and protection of children, which involved investigating daycare centers and allegations of child abuse or child labor, as well as providing counseling services, residential placement, and foster care. Civil society activists stated the CCB was not properly staffed or resourced.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years. Persons between the ages of 16 to 18 can be married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse and makes child pornography illegal. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment, and Community Development acknowledged child prostitution occurred; however, there were no official statistics to document the problem. Newspaper reports suggested the number of young teenage girls engaged in transactional sex was increasing.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.

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 disabilities in employment, but it does not extend to education or the provision of other state services. A separate law provides for employers to ensure the safety and health of persons with disabilities.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled, the Barbados National Organization for the Disabled, and other nongovernmental organizations indicated that transportation remained the primary challenge facing persons with disabilities. The government and council offered free bus services for children with disabilities; nonetheless, there was limited enforcement of this provision.

Although many public areas lacked the necessary ramps, railings, parking, and bathroom adjustments to accommodate persons with disabilities, the council had begun implementation of the Fully Accessible Barbados initiative, which had some success in improving accessibility. The Town and Country Planning Department set provisions for all public buildings to include accessibility for persons with disabilities. As a result, most new buildings had ramps, reserved parking, and accessible bathrooms.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, with penalties up to life imprisonment, but there were no reports of the law being enforced during the year. The law does not prohibit discrimination against a person based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care.

Civil society groups reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. Activists stated that while many individuals were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, police disapproval and societal discrimination made LGBTI persons more vulnerable to threats, crime, and destruction of property. According to civil society groups, LBTI women were particularly vulnerable to discrimination and unequal protection under the law.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government continued a countrywide media campaign to discourage discrimination against HIV/AIDS-infected persons and others living with them, and it reported that the campaign had decreased social stigma against HIV/AIDS. While there was no systematic discrimination, HIV/AIDS-infected persons did not commonly disclose the condition due to lack of social acceptance.

Belarus

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities used wiretapping, video surveillance, and a network of informers that deprived persons of privacy.

By law persons who obstruct law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties may be penalized or charged with an administrative offense, even if the “duties” are inconsistent with the law. “Obstruction” could include any effort to prevent KGB or law enforcement officers from entering the premises of a company, establishment, or organization; refusing to allow KGB audits; or denying or restricting KGB access to information systems and databases.

The law requires a warrant before, or immediately after, conducting a search. Nevertheless, some democratic activists believed the KGB entered their homes unannounced. The KGB has the authority to enter any building at any time, as long as it applies for a warrant within 24 hours after the entry.

Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports. On March 7, the independent Belarusian Trade Union of Workers of Radio and Electronics Industry (REP) reported that its deputy chair Zinaida Mikhnyuk and youth network coordinator Hanna Dous were briefly detained and searched at the Belarus-Lithuania border. Dous told the media that border officers searched her belongings without giving an explanation or bringing any charges.

While the law prohibits authorities from intercepting telephone and other communications without a prosecutor’s order, authorities routinely monitored residences, telephones, and computers. Nearly all opposition political figures and many prominent members of civil society groups claimed that authorities monitored their conversations and activities. The government continued to collect and obtain personally identifiable information on independent journalists and democratic activists during raids and by confiscating computer equipment.

The law allows the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, special security services, financial intelligence personnel, and certain border guard detachments to use wiretaps. Wiretaps require the permission of a prosecutor, but the lack of prosecutorial independence rendered this requirement meaningless.

The independent election observation group Prava Vybaru (Right to Choose) claimed that the two state-controlled television channels broadcast illegally wiretapped conversations between its activists. According to Prava Vybaru, the channels misrepresented the recording’s content in order to discredit the group before February local elections.

The Ministry of Communications has the authority to terminate the telephone service of persons who violate telephone contracts, which prohibit the use of telephone services for purposes contrary to state interests and public order.

Authorities continued to harass family members of NGO leaders and civil society and opposition activists through selective application of the law. Maryna Adamovich, the spouse of opposition activist Mikalai Statkevich, told the press that the tires of their two cars were damaged on the eve of Statkevich’s arrest on March 25. Adamovich filed a police complaint but there were no developments in the case.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular, to foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence as indicated by mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who were expelled or believed they were under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians may legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship. Overall, as of October 1, immigration authorities accepted 463 applications for asylum compared with 596 in 2016, including from 359 Ukrainians, 10 Syrians, eight Afghans, and 12 Pakistanis.

In addition to refugee status, the country’s asylum law provides for complementary protection in the form of temporary residence. In the period January-September, 364 foreigners were granted complementary protection (333 Ukrainians, 14 Syrians, six Yemenis, seven Afghans, one Georgian, and three Egyptians).

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status of asylum-seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Durable Solutions: Adult asylum seekers have to pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of July 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 6,618 stateless persons in the country; all had permanent residence, according to authorities.

Permanently resident stateless persons held residence permits and were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, with the exception of a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path towards citizenship for this stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to Belarusian citizenship.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 184 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2017.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year. The government issued protective orders mandating the separation of victims and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to victims.

The law on crime prevention establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition, the code on administrative offenses prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.

On November 26, a senior representative of the Interior Minister stated every third person killed in the country was killed by a family member and that in January-October the ministry identified 115 women as victims of murder and severe bodily harm in crimes related to domestic violence, 41 of whom died. From January-August authorities also issued approximately 5,500 protective orders, including 5,000 ordering perpetrators to move out of residences shared with their victims.

On April 25, authorities arrested a resident of the city of Valozhyn on a charge of beating his spouse to death. The family, with two minor children, lived in a dormitory, and their neighbors told police the victim had complained of abuse and domestic violence. According to witnesses and press reports, the victim sustained at least 30 severe injuries. The case was pending at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one parent is not a citizen. Births were generally registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate. The government instituted a 2017-21 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures.

With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. More experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.

A UNICEF report, released in March, registered children’s and parents’ low awareness of existing types of violence against children; limited capacity of professionals to identify, register, report, and address incidents of violence, and weak collaboration on violence prevention and response among professionals. In addition, the report found an inadequate monitoring system that operated only with data on investigated crimes against children and cases of child separation because of identified violence in the home.

As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

According to the UNICEF study, two-thirds of professionals reported they had never had training on violence against children. One-third of professionals said that specialists working with children often ignored or concealed facts of violence in their institutions.

Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. From January through October, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 63 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and identified 25 minors as victims. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced. The law, however, failed to criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking by requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

The UNICEF study reported that more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either psychical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared to children living in families: they had two to three times higher exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews lived in the country.

Anti-Semitic incidents continued. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern regarding pan-Slavic nationalism professed by some extremist groups. Neo-Nazis, such as the Russian National Unity group and supporters of similar groups were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and xenophobic newspapers, literature, digital video discs, and videotapes, frequently imported from Russia, were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.

Media continued to report that many Holocaust memorials built in Soviet times and more recently do not acknowledge Jewish victims. The Jewish community continued to work with local authorities to erect new monuments that specifically commemorate Jewish victims.

During the year authorities convicted a number of offenders who reportedly associated themselves with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews, among others. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting racist videos on social media. In a similar case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy district of posting videos with anti-Semitic content and sentenced him to a year and a month in jail on April 18.

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 does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and discrimination was common.

The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not suitable to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated, although the situation slightly improved during the year.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 19,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. In September 2017 experts of the ACT NGO released a monitoring report indicating that 3.3 percent of all educational institutions across the country were accessible to persons with disabilities, including with vision and hearing disabilities, and most of these facilities were recently constructed.

Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).

Persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, often encountered problems with access to courts and obtaining court interpreters. Women with disabilities often faced discrimination, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that they would not appropriately care for their children. Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, mistreatment in detention, and ethnic insults.

Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus, while supporting a progovernment organization of a similar name. On November 19, independent media sources reported that authorities in Minsk interrupted a concert, organized by the unregistered union to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland’s regained independence. It was their fourth attempt to hold the event after three denied requests to rent premises.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Roma. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.

There were also expressions of hostility toward proponents of the national culture that the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by the president as “the fifth column.” Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred. The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. Police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against them.

On June 29 and July 21, police disrupted parties organized by an LGBTI group at a nightclub in Minsk and wrote down everyone’s names as well as their places of employment or education. Officers reportedly claimed they received notices of possible crimes, including drug trafficking and abuse of minors, at the club.

The government allows transgender persons to update their name and gender marker on national identification documents, but these documents retain old identification numbers that include a digit indicating the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Transgender persons reportedly were refused jobs when potential employers noted the “discrepancy” between the applicant’s identification number and their gender marker. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.

According to local media, on July 31 authorities refused a foreign LGBTI rights activist entry to Belarus at the Minsk National Airport. A representative of the border service told the media the decision was made in accordance with a law that says a foreigner can be denied entry if his or her presence in the country ran counter to national security, public order, the protection of morality, public health, or the rights and liberties of the citizens of Belarus and other persons. The LGBTI organization Out Loud stated the activist planned to deliver a lecture in Minsk on discrimination and street violence against migrants, nonwhite, and transgender persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS noted there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews. There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware.

The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness concerning HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.

Bolivia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

There were credible reports that the ruling MAS party required government officials to profess party loyalty to the government or register formally as party members to obtain/retain employment or access to other government services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote. A number of opposition politicians with legal cases against them were prohibited from leaving the country and were required to turn in their passports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.

Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult (man or woman). Domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.

In 2013 the government passed a law against domestic violence, but lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to prohibit the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were victims of a violent crime some time in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home. A 2017 UN Women report affirmed that 92.7 percent of women suffered psychological abuse at some point in their lives.

The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in prison. Activists said corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.

Victor Hugo Soria, director of a police unit, the Special Force of the Fight Against Violence, reported on a femicide that occurred in July in which a 19-year-old girl was raped and beaten to death by her partner in Coroico. Women’s rights organizations reported police units assigned to the special force did not have sufficient resources and that frontline officers lacked proper training about their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence victims received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after they languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the victim was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial process, and financial burden discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.

The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. The municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. Human rights specialists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.

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, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Additionally, antidiscrimination laws were not uniformly or effectively implemented to protect women from harassment and political violence.

The rate of female participation in government was high, but there were reports female policymakers faced discrimination, violence, and harassment. According to a poll conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received.

The Law of Political Organizations, passed in September, provides political organizations with the authority to punish political harassment. According to the law, each political party must have a member whose duty is to promote parity and follow up on complaints of harassment and political violence with appropriate sanctions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2015 civil registry–the most recent available–indicated that 56 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by age 12.

Child Abuse: Rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported at least 37 cases of infanticide between January and June. The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13 years old.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with 10- to 15-year sentences.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them.

Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that, of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.

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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. Jewish leaders reported the public often conflated Jews with Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitism.

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, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation. No official action was taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited ease of movement in urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. There were advances, however, in the public transportation sector in the city of La Paz. The city bus and gondola system was substantially expanded during the year and provided accommodations for persons with disabilities.

A 2017 law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to 250 bolivianos ($37) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly the police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.

Indigenous People

In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than the age of 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities. The government facilitated major advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governmental posts and in society writ large.

Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.

On July 16, the indigenous people of Beni Department stated the government was unlawfully developing land they hold sacred. Persons from Trinidadcito, an indigenous community with 42 families in rural Beni, gave testimony regarding the negative effects of the construction of the road through Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. According to their complaint, the government was promoting policies that would lead to the dispossession of their ancestral lands and failed to respect the constitution.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identity cards and birth certificates.

The human rights ombudsman reported in May 2017 that the government registered 64 killings of LGBTI individuals in the previous 10 years. Authorities investigated 14 cases, but the courts had not sentenced anyone for these crimes.

According to activists in the LGBTI community, violence against transgender persons decreased due in part to better community awareness of LGBTI issues. For example, the Santa Cruz police commander regularly received updates from LGBTI activists about the violence and social problems the community faced. Moreover, the commander allowed transgender individuals who were incarcerated to be held in areas in accordance with their gender identity.

LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported in 2016 that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination. Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to turn to sex work because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activist reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.

Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.

According to LGBTI activists, “biological women” often failed to include transgender women in advocacy efforts when fighting for greater rights for women in society.

On July 3, Minister of Communication Gisela Lopez presented a manual titled Communicate to Live with Diversity. According to LGBTI organizations, this was created with the goal of generating dialogue between communicators and journalists on appropriate terminology when reporting on or discussing LGBTI issues to avoid bias or discriminatory language.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was also least successful in diagnosing cases.

Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence in lieu of justice was a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and lack of faith in the justice system properly to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence couched as “vigilante justice.”

Cameroon

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape of men and women and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists.  Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them.  The law does not address spousal rape.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation of all persons.  Whoever mutilates the genitals of another person is subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death.  FMG/C remained a problem, but its prevalence remained low.  As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

According to the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C.  For more than 10 years, the government has carried out initiatives to end FGM/C.  These include granting support for the socioeconomic reconversion of male and female excision practitioners and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and Northern Regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home.  To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment.  Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700).  If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be between one to three years in prison.  If the offender is the victim’s teacher, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison.  Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment.

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 women and men; in practice, however, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.  Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.  The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owing or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.  Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports suggest some gender discrimination occurred in places of employment, especially in the private sector.

Children

Birth Registration:  Children derive citizenship through their parents, and the responsibility to register birth falls upon parents.  Many births go unregistered because children are not always born in health facilities, and many parents face challenges in reaching local government offices.

Education:  The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education but does not set an age limit.  The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 and $850).  The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years in cases in which the offense is repeated.  Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12.  Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books.  This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

During the year numerous separatist attacks on the education sector in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, including arson attacks on school facilities and physical assaults on administrative staff, faculty and students, disrupted the normal operation of schools.  Many students and teachers were absent during the 2017-18 school year.  According to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 42,500 children were still out of school as of May.

In June, UNICEF reported that at least 58 schools in the Northwest and Southwest

Regions had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in 2016.  Human Rights Watch documented 19 threats or attacks on schools and 10 threats or attacks on education personnel.

In September individuals believed to be Anglophone separatists perpetrated a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the start of the 2018-19 school year in certain localities of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  During the night of September 1, the headmaster of the Bamali primary school in Ngoketunjia Division in the Northwest Region was killed.  On September 3, separatists abducted six students from the Presbyterian Girls Secondary School in Bafut, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region, along with their principal.  They later released the students and principal, who had been subjected to torture.  On September 4, a dozen individuals stormed a high school in Kumbo, Bui Division, in the Northwest Region and vandalized the administrative building, forcing teachers and students to run for safety.  On the same day, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Fako Division in the Southwest Region was attacked.

Child Abuse:  The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and cloud on parentage, which refers to a situation where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child.  Penalties for the offenses range from 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or grievous harm.  Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem.  Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school.  In addition Boko Haram continued to abduct children and used them as suicide bombers.  Press reports cited cases of child rape and the kidnapping of children for ransom.  In its April 20 edition, Mutation Daily reported that Reseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), an association working with girls who have become mothers due to early pregnancy, had received 18 reports of sexual abuse of minors since January.

Early and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18.  Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s March 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15.  The law punishes anyone who compels an individual to marry with imprisonment of from five to 10 years, and with fines between 25,000 and one million CFA francs ($42.50 to $1,700).  By law mitigating circumstances may result in a reduction in punishment, but the final penalty may not be less than a two-year prison sentence.  The court may also take custody from parents who give away their underage children in marriage.  Despite these legal provisions, a number of families reportedly tried to marry off their girls before age 18.  To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family (MINPROFF) organized sensitization campaigns to warn of the problems of early and forced marriages.  MINPROFF conducted these campaigns nationally around major commemorative days, such as the International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day.  At the local level, MINPROFF established women’s empowerment centers in most divisions where grassroots sensitization activities took place.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography.  A conviction, however, requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion.  Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million CFA francs ($170 to $17,000).  The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex.  According to anecdotal reports, children younger than age 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available.

Child Soldiers:  The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but government-affiliated civil defense forces employed child soldiers.  Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets.  There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children to combat government defense and security forces.  In presenting the government humanitarian emergency action plan in July, the prime minister stated that separatists were recruiting children into their ranks and forcing them to fight after consuming drugs and undergoing cultlike rituals.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities:  There were no reports of infanticide of children with disabilities.  According to human rights activists and media outlets, including newspapers Le Messager, Mutations, and Nouvelle Expression, local residents found the head of a decapitated child in a garbage bin on August 27 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Mvog Ebanda, commonly known as “Eleveur.”  Investigations led to the identification of the mother of the child as the perpetrator of the crime.

Displaced Children:  Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of major urban centers, although the trend was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy.  According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 65 percent of IDPs in Far North Region were children younger than 18.  These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection.  In addition thousands of children were negatively impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest.  These children faced significant violations of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike.  The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from forceful recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

International Child Abductions:  The country is not 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/InternationalParentalChildAbduction/forproviders/legalreportsanddata.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of antiSemitic acts.

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 constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities.  A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.  The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services.  Public education is tuition-free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities.  Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”  The government did not enforce all these provisions effectively in the past.  On July 26, the prime minister issued a decree spelling out a framework for implementing the 2010 law.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the reporting period.  The majority of children with disabilities attended school with nondisabled peers.  The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills.  Other children with disabilities continued to attend specialized schools such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing Impaired Children (ESEDA).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups.  Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region held many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions.  The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group.  Logging companies continued to destroy their naturally forested land without compensation.  Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices.  The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka.  Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, itinerant pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity, including between adults, is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).

LGBTI rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS

(CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others reported several arrests of LGBTI persons.  LGBTI individuals received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email, including of “corrective” rape, but authorities did not investigate allegations of harassment.  Civil society members stated there were also cases where LGBTI individuals underwent corrective rape, sometimes through the facilitation of the victim’s own family.  Police were generally unresponsive to requests to increase protection for lawyers who received threats because they represented LGBTI persons.  Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.  The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens.  In practice, however, security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants.  This practice and the fear it generated in turn restricted access to HIV/AIDS services.  Anecdotal reports also suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an April 25 release, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights

Defenders, in partnership with the World Organization against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), denounced the arrest and arbitrary detention of five staff members of the association Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO).  AJO promoted the rights of LGBTI persons with HIV and sex workers in the West Region.  According to the release, men in civilian clothing from the territorial police, on April 20, arrested the executive director and two other members of AJO, including a care worker, as they were leaving the organization’s premises.  On April 21, two additional care workers from the organization were arrested at their places of residence.  Police did not have warrants and took the five members of AJO to the Dschang central police station, where they experienced poor detention conditions on charges related to consensual same-sex conduct.  In connection with this incident, 18 other men were arrested.  For the first time in many years, authorities in the West Region introduced the prospect of forced anal exams for the 23 arrestees.  The men were ordered to undergo such exams, but after intense advocacy by the lawyer representing the men, together with diplomatic pressure, the matter was dropped.  The men did not have access to their lawyers until April 24.

In a midterm report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education on the disease.

As in the previous year, while there were no specific cases of discrimination to highlight in employment, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and other attacks were reported during the year.  Several arson attacks were recorded, involving the destruction of both public and private property.  On January 21, in Nkambe, in the Donga and Mantung Division of Northwest Region, unidentified men set the dormitory section of St Rita’s Secondary School on fire after the management defied the school boycott called for by separatists in the Anglophone regions.

On April 28, on the outskirts of Muyuka, Southwest Region, three gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a pregnant schoolteacher.  The incident occurred three days after a similar attack on a school in Kumba took place where assailants riding motorcycles shot and killed the discipline master of the government bilingual high school and chopped off three fingers of a student.

The October presidential election triggered a wave of ethnic-tinged hate speech on social media after Cameroon Renaissance Movement candidate Maurice Kamto prematurely announced he won the election.  These attacks mostly split along tribal lines, with Kamto’s Bamileke and President Biya’s Beti ethnic groups the primary targets.

The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($8.50 and $170) for witchcraft.  There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Costa Rica

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 14 months and an additional 12 months for the appeals process.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly. The Immigration Office handled a growing number of migrants requesting refugee status, the majority from Nicaragua. According to immigration authorities, from April to September, Nicaraguans filed 8,000 claims and authorities gave migrants more than 15,000 more appointments to file their requests, up from fewer than 100 applications from Nicaraguans in all of 2017. The government leased additional office space and opened a call center to process appointments and disseminate information better.

As of August the Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, had a backlog of 476 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim (which occurs in virtually all cases). On August 10, the Labor Ministry, the Chamber of Commerce, and UNHCR launched a program to assist asylum seekers and refugees to find jobs.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was eight months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other national identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many private citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 39,000 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process. In partnership with UNHCR, on April 23, the government awarded “Living Integration” certifications to 20 public and private organizations to help refugees and asylum seekers earn a livelihood.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 8 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. The National Civil Registry appointed a permanent officer in the regional offices of Coto Brus, Talamanca, and Tarrazu to provide follow-up services. From May 27 to June 3, authorities from Costa Rica and Panama collaborated to register citizens from the southern area of Punta Burica as part of the Chiriticos project. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry continued a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, during the first months of the year, the number of femicides increased in spite of the efforts of the government and civil society to fight this problem. The killing of two female tourists on August 4 caused authorities on August 7 to declare the reduction of violence against women as a “national priority” not only to raise awareness, but also to implement coordinated actions among public institutions in areas with a higher incidence of violence.

On July 2, President Alvarado enacted a restorative justice law but simultaneously asked the National Assembly to reform some of its provisions to prevent victims of sex crimes and domestic violence from negotiating with perpetrators and aggressors, after the attorney general and the minister of women’s issues expressed their concern.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, but there was no increase in the number of cases of child violence or abuse. The institute implemented a prevention strategy against child abuse during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The law establishes penalties for sex with minors and prohibits child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious 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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country. There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

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 constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law also establishes a right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The government policy on education and the national plan for higher education aim to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities. During the February national elections, the Organization of American States Observation Mission lauded the country for facilitating voting for seniors and persons with disabilities, including accessible voting booths and technological tools to promote participation in the electoral process.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts. On August 1, Vice President and Foreign Affairs Minister Campbell Barr appointed a presidential commissioner for Afro-Descendant Affairs.

Indigenous People

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands.

On March 6, the government finalized a consultative process in response to a mandate from International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, requiring governments to engage with indigenous peoples on measures that directly affect them. The consultative mechanism consists of an eight-step process for gathering input from indigenous communities, from project inception through final monitoring. The mechanism recognizes the duty of the government to obtain prior and informed consent for large-scale development projects affecting indigenous communities but does not give them veto power. The executive order authorizing the consultative mechanism was issued in March, but as of October it had not yet been carried out.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. On May 17, President Alvarado appointed a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) commissioner in charge of coordinating efforts between civil society and the presidency to promote LGBTI issues.

Transgender individuals faced barriers to legal gender recognition until, on June 28, President Alvarado signed an executive order that instructed all public entities to modify records of transgender individuals who requested the change.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination within their own families due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. LGBTI organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms. Reports of discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community increased after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights publication of its advisory opinion on same-sex marriage, which was issued one month before the first round of national elections. By February the LGBTI community reported 32 cases of physical and verbal abuse, and several legislators and political leaders expressed their opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights opinion and its implementation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Labor discrimination towards HIV patients continued; some persons reported losing their jobs due to discrimination, their deteriorating health, or both.

Cote d’Ivoire

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Police sometimes used a general search warrant without a name or address. The FACI and DST arrested individuals without warrants.

Some leaders of opposition parties reported that authorities had frozen their bank accounts, although they were not on any international sanctions’ list and courts had not charged them with any offenses. It was unclear whether frozen bank accounts of those pardoned by the president in the August amnesty were reactivated. Human rights groups reported that the bank account of a minister’s opponent in the October municipal election was frozen.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape. A life sentence can be imposed in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 15. Most rape cases were tried on the lesser charge of “indecent assault,” which carries a prison term of six months to five years.

The government made some efforts to enforce the law, but local and international human rights groups reported rape remained widespread. There were reports of widespread rape and sexual abuse targeting girls and young women. In one such report, 11 young women came forward with allegations of rape in the western part of the country. In one egregious case, a young girl died following an alleged rape.

Relatives, police, and traditional leaders often discouraged female survivors from pursuing a criminal case, with their families, often the survivor’s husband, accepting payment for compensation. Rape victims were no longer required to obtain a medical certificate, which could cost up to 50,000 CFA francs ($90), to move a legal complaint forward. As a practical matter, however, cases rarely proceeded without one since it often served as the primary form of evidence.

The law does not specifically outlaw domestic violence, which was a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs, more than 36 percent of women reported being victims of physical or psychological abuse at some time. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to cultural barriers and because police often ignored women who reported rape or domestic violence. Survivors stressed that although sexual and gender-based violence was an “everyday reality,” deeply ingrained taboos discouraged them from speaking out. Survivors were ostracized and advocates for survivors reported being threatened. Fear of challenging male authority figures silenced most victims. In September the first lady offered to pay the medical expense of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped.

The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence and rape, including counseling at government-operated centers.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to two million CFA francs ($650 to $3,610). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. In August authorities made several arrests after discovering that a group of girls had been subjected to the procedure. The government successfully prosecuted some FGM/C cases during the year. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a serious problem.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of between one and three years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

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 in labor law but not under religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. In 2012 parliament passed a series of laws to reduce gender inequality in marriage, including laws to allow married women to benefit from an income tax deduction and to be involved in family decisions. Many religious and traditional authorities rejected these laws, however, and there was no evidence the government enforced them.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. At least one parent must be a citizen for a child to acquire citizenship at birth. The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth free, except the cost of the stamp. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. For births registered after the first three months, families pay 5,000 CFA francs ($9.00) or more. For older children authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result, children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with UNICEF and the World Bank, launched a special operation to ensure the civil registration of 1.2 million school-going children in 2017, but due to numerous technical obstacles, many children did not benefit from this program.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Under a law passed in 2015, primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to fines up to 500,000 CFA francs ($900) or jail time of two to six months, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school. In principle students do not have to pay for books, uniforms, or fees, but families usually paid because the government did not often cover these expenses. Schools expected parents to contribute to the teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas.

Educational participation of girls was lower than that of boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls enrolled at a higher rate, participation rates for them dropped below that of boys because of the tendency to keep girls at home to do domestic work or care for younger siblings.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape or attempted rape of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, children were victims of physical and sexual violence and abuse. Authorities reported rapes of girls as young as age three during the year. Authorities often reclassified claims of child rape as indecent assault, which ensured a timely trial and conviction, although penalties were less severe. Judges exercised discretion in deciding whether to reclassify a claim from child rape to indecent assault, and they may only do so when there is no clear medical proof or testimony to support rape charges. There were some prosecutions and convictions during the year. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network.

Before April, three children were killed as sacrifices, one in Abidjan, including a four-year-old killed after a traditional witch doctor promised that a child sacrifice would make the killer wealthy. Following the alleged rape and ritual murder of a 14-year-old student, 11 persons were injured in March when students ransacking and torching the gendarmerie barracks clashed with gendarmes.

Although the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs; and Ministry of Education were responsible for combating child abuse, they were ineffective due to lack of coordination between the ministries and inadequate resources.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits the marriage of men younger than age 20 and women younger than age 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than age 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, traditional marriages were performed with girls as young as 14 years old.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of children for commercial sex or pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and fines of five million to 50 million CFA francs ($9,000 to $90,000). Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800).

In November armed gendarmes abducted a 14-year-old girl from an NGO in Abidjan that shelters trafficked and abandoned children. Security forces had initially demanded that the NGO give up the girl, and when they refused, gendarmes with brandished weapons arrived and forced the girl to get in their vehicle. Reportedly, relatives brought the girl to Abidjan after her father raped her, but she may have been forced to work in the household of the security force officer from which she escaped to the NGO. An investigation by a military tribunal continued at year’s end.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking. During the year the antitrafficking unit of the national police investigated several cases of suspected child sex trafficking.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Displaced Children: Local NGOs reported thousands of children countrywide living on the streets. The government implemented a program with a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem of hundreds of children, including many teenagers, who composed a large percentage of youth offenders and lived on the streets of Abidjan and other cities. Police often stopped to question and sometimes arrest these minors in security operations in Abidjan and other cities. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training, and the government announced a pilot resocialization program to offer civic education to 160 youth as part of efforts to address juvenile delinquency.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, both expatriates and Ivoirians who converted. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and work spaces for access and use by persons with disabilities as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons, but there were no reports the government enforced these laws. The 2016 constitution contains provisions in favor of persons with disabilities, but these laws were not effectively enforced. Vision- and hearing-impaired persons were also discriminated against in civic participation, since political campaigns did not include materials for them, either in braille or sign language. An NGO reported bringing this to the attention of the CEI, but to no avail.

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. While the government reserved 800 civil service jobs for persons with disabilities, government employers sometimes refused to employ such persons. Prisons and detention centers provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.

The government financially supported separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, but many persons with disabilities begged on urban streets and in commercial zones for lack of other economic opportunities. Because most of these schools were located in Abidjan, vision- and hearing-impaired students in other areas of the country did not have the opportunity to attend them. NGOs reported that these schools functioned more as literacy centers that did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. It was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. Although public schools did not bar persons with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate students with disabilities. Persons with mental disabilities often lived on the street.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups, and ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second- or third-generation residents. Despite a 2013 procedural update that allows putative owners of land an additional 10 years to establish title, land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. There were instances in which police abused and harassed non-Ivoirian Africans residing in the country. Harassment by officials reflected the common belief that foreigners were responsible for high crime rates and identity card fraud.

In July residents from the Guere ethnic group clashed with Burkina Faso nationals over an alleged murder in western part of the country.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law’s only mention of same-sex sexual activity is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in public. Antidiscrimination laws do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Law enforcement authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Two members of the transgender community were killed in Abidjan, one in February and the other in May; in one case a person was arrested, then released, and for the other, no one had been arrested by year’s end. Members of the LGBTI community reported that police rarely investigated violence against LGBTI persons. Human rights organizations reported that LGBTI persons who were attacked seldom reported the crime to police, due to fear of revenge and further abuse, as well as discrimination upon revealing their sexual orientation. Paying the authorities was often required for them to conduct investigations.

Societal discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community were problems. Human rights groups continued to report that LGBTI community members were evicted from their homes by landlords or their families. They reported several instances of LGBTI persons being beaten or blackmailed by neighborhood thugs. Security forces sometimes tried to humiliate members of the transgender community by forcing them to undress in public.

Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care, citing instances where doctors refused treatment and pharmacists told them to follow religion and learn to change.

The few LGBTI organizations in the country operated freely but with caution to avoid attracting the attention of persons who might attack or otherwise abuse its members. New NGOs promoting human rights for members of the LGBTI community were founded, including two new transgender groups based in Abidjan and a group in northern part of the country. These groups advocated on behalf of victims and collaborated with local human rights group to prod the police to investigate cases of violence against members of the LGBTI community. They also organized discussions with community and religious leaders to explain how rejecting LGBTI family members could do great harm.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. A 2014 law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes fines for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and vulnerable children, including those infected and affected by HIV.

Dominican Republic

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence, except when police are in hot pursuit of a suspect, a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or police suspect a life is in danger. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge. Police conducted illegal searches and seizures, however, including raids without warrants on private residences in many poor neighborhoods.

Although the government denied using unauthorized wiretaps, monitoring of private email, or other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of individuals and families, human rights groups and opposition politicians alleged such interference occurred. Opposition political parties alleged government officials at times threatened subordinates with loss of employment and other benefits to compel them to support the incumbent PLD party and attend PLD campaign events.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The government cooperated in a limited manner with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organization representatives said deportations of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continued. They said some deportations were arbitrary and consisted of taking persons across the border without any record of doing so. IOM border monitoring found that some of those deported were unaccompanied children. In October 2017 the Center for Migration Observation and Social Development in the Caribbean reported concern regarding the lack of information on accountability mechanisms stipulating that migration officials and other members of state security adhere to legal provisions for due process and other rights of migrants during deportations. The center reported that abuses appeared to be greater when the deportations were carried out by military personnel than by officials of the General Directorate of Migration. In addition to deportation, undocumented Haitian victims faced increased vulnerability to trafficking.

The IOM reported cases of individuals deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences as well as deportations of women who left children behind in their residences.

A 2017 National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund study estimated the total Haitian population in the country at 750,150, of whom 497,800 were identified as Haitian immigrants and 252,350 were categorized as persons of Haitian descent. The exact number of undocumented persons was unclear.

The 2014 National Regularization Plan enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. In July 2016 the government extended the expiration date of the temporary resident cards issued under the plan, marking the third time the government had done so. The plan granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 irregular migrants (98 percent Haitian).

UN officials accompanied immigration authorities during interception procedures conducted in different provinces. According to the United Nations, deportation procedures were generally orderly, legal, and individualized, in compliance with applicable international human rights standards, although there were reports of arbitrary detentions and deportations of Haitian migrants and their descendants, as well as persons perceived as such.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. While the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, it has not effectively implemented it. A 1983 decree created the National Office of Refugees in the Migration Directorate of the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE). CONARE is an interministerial body, composed of the Foreign Ministry, National Department of Investigations, and General Directorate of Migration, that adjudicates asylum claims.

A 2013 CONARE resolution requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. Under this resolution, if an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days and does not apply for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The resolution also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus, the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

According to refugee NGOs, there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum or of the timeline or process for doing so. Furthermore, the NGOs reported that immigration officials did not know how to handle asylum cases. UNHCR protection officers were occasionally and unpredictably granted access to detained asylum seekers. CONARE policies do not provide for protection screening in the deportation process. By law the government must afford due process to detained asylum seekers, and those expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review to provide for protection screening.

UN officials said a lack of due process resulted in arbitrary and indefinite detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review and a 96 percent rejection rate of asylum applications submitted to CONARE since 2013. As a result, asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.

According to UNHCR, as of June the country hosted 865 asylum seekers and 583 refugees, of whom only 11 were recognized by CONARE. Of the more than 300 asylum-seeker cases between 2012 and 2016 that received a final decision, the government rejected 99 percent with the vague justification of “failure of proof.” NGOs concluded this alone was evidence of systemic discrimination, as 99 percent of asylum seekers were also of Haitian origin.

High costs and tedious renewal procedures made it unsustainable for refugees to stay in the country with valid migratory documents.

The border police and immigration officials were not adequately trained for gender-sensitivity and nondiscriminatory practices when dealing with female asylum seekers and refugees, according to UNHCR. The country failed to implement a gender-sensitive identification system for female asylum seekers and refugees that was not based on prejudices and stereotyped notions of women, including victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation.

CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers details of the grounds for the rejection of their initial application for asylum or information regarding the process for appeal. Rejected applicants received a letter informing them that they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Per government policy, rejected asylum seekers have seven days from receipt of notice of denial to file an appeal; however, the letter providing notice of denial did not mention this right to appeal.

During the year government authorities involved in screening at points of entry and at detention centers, including immigration officers, members of the armed forces, judicial authorities, and police officers, participated in UNHCR-sponsored training designed to ensure that asylum procedures are fair, efficient, and gender sensitive.

Freedom of Movement: The government issued travel documents to approved refugees for a fee of 3,150 pesos ($63). Refugees commented that the travel document listed their nationality as “refugee” and not their country of origin. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only a letter to present to avoid deportation, which deterred freedom of movement.

Refugees recognized by CONARE underwent annual re-evaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure counter to international standards, and were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit. Some refugees recognized by CONARE were also issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, or they were not issued travel documents at all.

Although the constitution prohibits administrative detention and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance, UNHCR officials reported that the lack of access and monitoring of detention centers resulted in the frequent, arbitrary, and indefinite detention of persons in need of international protection.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was further complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite, waiting periods for pending cases to be resolved. Lack of documentation also precluded refugees from certain employment. Employment was nonetheless a requirement for the government to renew refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees receive the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. This provided refugees the right to access education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, UNHCR reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported their government-issued identification numbers were not recognized, and thus they could not access other services, such as opening a bank account or entering service contracts for basic utilities, and instead had to rely on friends or family for such services. Refugees who did not receive migratory permits lived on the margins of the migratory system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migratory documents to obtain legal assistance or access the judicial system; therefore, many refugees and asylum seekers were unable to find legal remedies for predicaments they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.

STATELESS PERSONS

Prior to 2010 the constitution bestowed citizenship upon anyone born in the country except children born to diplomats and children born to parents who are “in transit.” The 2010 constitution added an additional exception for children born in the country to parents without migratory status. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that undocumented migrants were considered “in transit” for purposes of citizenship transmission, and thus all children born to undocumented migrant parents were not Dominican citizens. The ruling retroactively revised the country’s citizenship transmission laws and stripped citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who had been conferred citizenship by virtue of jus soli since 1929.

Until 2012 the Haitian constitution did not permit dual citizenship. Therefore, individuals of Haitian descent who obtained Dominican citizenship at birth by virtue of birth on Dominican soil forfeited their right to Haitian citizenship. The 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling therefore stripped nearly all of those affected of the only citizenship they held. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), UNHCR, and Caribbean Community criticized the 2013 tribunal judgment. The IACHR found that the 2013 ruling implied an arbitrary deprivation of citizenship and that it had a discriminatory effect, stripped citizenship retroactively, and led to statelessness for individuals not considered citizens.

In 2014 President Medina signed and promulgated a law to regularize and (re)issue identity documents to individuals born in the country between June 16, 1929, and April 18, 2007, to undocumented migrant parents, who were previously registered in the civil registry (Group A), recognizing them as Dominican citizens from birth. Based on an audit of the national civil registry archives, that population was estimated to total 60,000. By the end of 2017, according to the civil registry, 20,872 Group A persons had been issued birth certificates or national identity cards.

The 2014 law also creates a special path to citizenship for persons born to undocumented migrant parents who never registered in the civil registry, including an estimated 45,000-75,000 undocumented persons, predominantly of Haitian descent (Group B). Group B individuals were able to apply for legal residency under this law and apply for naturalized citizenship after two years. The law granted Group B individuals 180 days to apply for legal residency, an application window that closed on January 31, 2015. A total of 8,755 Group B individuals successfully applied before that deadline. NGOs and foreign governments expressed concern for the potentially large number of Group B persons who did not apply before the deadline. The government committed to resolve any unregistered Group B cases but did not identify the legal framework under which that commitment would be fulfilled. The government also committed not to deport anyone born in the country.

In 2015 the civil registry (known as the Central Electoral Board or JCE) announced it had transferred the civil records of the 54,307 individuals identified in Group A to a separate civil registry book and annulled their original civil registrations. The JCE invited those on the list to report to JCE offices and receive a reissued birth certificate. In 2015 civil society groups reported that many Group A individuals experienced difficulties obtaining reissued birth certificates at JCE offices. NGOs documented cases of individuals they determined qualified as Group A but were not included in the JCE’s audit results list. In response to complaints, the government created channels for reporting missing cases, delays, or failures to issue Group A nationality documents in JCE satellite offices, including a telephone line and social media accounts. NGOs reported the measures led to improved document issuance rates for Group A.

UN officials and NGOs said the law on nationality had a disproportionate and negative impact on women and their children. They reported that mothers, especially unmarried mothers of Haitian origin, were unable to register their children on an equal basis as the fathers. The law requires a different birth certificate for foreign women who do not have documentation of legal residency. This led to discrimination in the ability of children born to foreign women with Dominican citizen fathers to obtain Dominican nationality, especially if they were of Haitian descent. This was not true in the reverse situation when children were born to a Dominican citizen mother with a foreign-born father.

Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. In addition, undocumented persons may not obtain national identification cards or voting cards. Persons who did not have a national identification card or birth certificate had limited access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, public education, marriage and birth registration, formal financial services such as banks and loans, courts and judicial procedures, and ownership of land or property.

Between 2015 and September 2018, officials from the IOM identified 20 Group A or B beneficiaries who were deported by government authorities. UNHCR reported during the year that it was able to prevent the deportation of 12 Group A or B beneficiaries by coordinating with the General Directorate of Migration.

In March the IACHR removed the country from a black list reserved for countries with the most egregious violations of human rights, where it had been placed in 2017 because of its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The removal was due to the government agreement to create a working group with civil society participation that would address 12 issues the IACHR identified as priorities, such as the impact of the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal decision that disproportionately deprived black, ethnically Haitian Dominicans of citizenship based on their race and national origin.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, such as incest and sexual aggression. The sentences for conviction of rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000).

Rape was a serious and pervasive problem. Despite government efforts, violence against women was pervasive. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes, even in cases in which victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling. In November 2017 the attorney general announced a new national plan to combat violence against women and funding for a “City of Women” to provide comprehensive services for victims. During the year the government relaunched its 24-hour domestic violence hotline, launched a national publicity campaign against domestic violence, opened five new victims assistance units (of a planned 14 new units), hired 200 new specialized staff to serve in the units, and signed an agreement with National University Pedro Henriquez Urena for a degree program for prosecutors and inspectors specializing in gender violence and in intrafamily and sex crimes. In September the attorney general also launched a “100-day challenge,” for which his office opened 1,986 new domestic violence cases, nine times the number in the 100 days before the challenge. The attorney general declared his office resolved 215 cases during the challenge.

The Ministry of Women actively promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women through implementing education and awareness programs and the provision of training to other ministries and offices. It also operated shelters and provided counseling services, although NGOs argued these efforts were inadequate.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a fine equal to the sum of three to six months of salary. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and sexual harassment remained a problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men (see also section 2.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see section 2.d.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. A child not registered at birth remains undocumented until parents file a late declaration of birth.

Education: The constitution stipulates free, compulsory public education through age 18; however, education was not universal through the secondary level for undocumented students. Public schools enrolled children who lacked identity documentation and promoted undocumented children between grades, although an identity document was necessary for the Ministry of Education to issue a high-school diploma. The Ministry of Education and the Vice President’s Office, through the Progressing with Solidarity program, worked with families to assist children with late registration of birth and identity documentation.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a fine of three to five times the monthly minimum wage for persons convicted of abuse of a minor. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of women, before age 18 was common. According to a 2014 UNICEF-supported government survey, 10 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 37 percent by age 18. The government conducted no known prevention or mitigation programs. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000).

The commercial sexual exploitation of children generally occurred in tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking (see section 2.d.).

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at /travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, these individuals encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, and in obtaining health care and transportation services. The law provides for access to basic services and physical access for persons with disabilities to all new public and private buildings. It also specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities as well as to operate schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states the government should provide for persons with disabilities to have access to the labor market as well as to cultural, recreational, and religious activities, but it was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for care of children with disabilities–in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. In 2016 the Ministry of Education reported that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended school, but this had not been independently verified.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, but the government denied such prejudice or discrimination existed and, consequently, did little to address the problem. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution upholds the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. It does prohibit, however, discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTI persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services.

NGOs reported police abuse, including arbitrary arrest, police violence, and extortion, against LGBTI persons. According to civil society organizations, authorities failed to properly document or investigate the incidents that were reported. According to a report presented by civil society before the UN Human Rights Committee, the law does not provide for the prosecution of hate crimes against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in such areas as health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many workers found to have the disease were not hired, and those employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed alleged criminals in vigilante-style reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary.

Ecuador

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

On March 19, President Moreno announced the National Secretariat of Intelligence would be restructured and renamed in response to criticism that it had engaged in physical surveillance of human rights, environmental and labor activists, and opposition politicians during the Correa administration. On September 21, President Moreno issued a decree establishing the Center for Strategic Intelligence to oversee and coordinate the production of intelligence information that contributes to the public security of the state.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The 2017 Human Mobility Law codifies protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. As of September the government was developing regulations to implement the law. During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, and the country’s economic slowdown, strained the government’s immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, occasionally experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year placed a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

From January to April, a series of attacks by a narcoguerrilla group against military and police personnel and installations in Esmeraldas Province, including the bombing of a police station, led persons to leave the area for security concerns. The Catholic Church provided shelter to the internally displaced families, with local government assistance. On April 17, Economic and Social Inclusion Minister Berenice Cordero reported that 158 families displaced by the attacks received government assistance.

On July 8, government officials reported the closure of the last shelter for families affected by the 2016 earthquake in the province of Manabi. The government noted all families had a place to live due to reconstruction efforts and the housing assistance provided by the Ministry of Urban Development.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The country’s population of recognized refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Colombians, numbered more than 64,300. During the first 10 months of the year, the Ministry of Interior registered more than 700,000 Venezuelans entering the country, more than double the number (288,000) who entered in all of 2017. As of September authorities estimated that 250,000 Venezuelans were residing in Ecuador and had issued more than 100,000 Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) temporary residency visas to Venezuelans, with 50,000 more being processed.

UNHCR reported an increase in Colombians seeking asylum during the year. Venezuelans were the second-highest nationality of asylum seekers, with approximately 9,000 Venezuelan asylum cases recorded during the first nine months of the year, according to UNHCR. An international organization reported many Venezuelans did not apply for asylum because they were unfamiliar with the process or did not know how long they would stay.

Access to Basic Services: Of refugees and asylum seekers, 40 percent resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Directorate General of Civil Registry enables recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A nonprofit organization reported the Civil Registry began issuing national identification cards for refugees in November 2017 but offered this service in only three cities, which resulted in refugees incurring additional expenses for travel. The Civil Registry also requires authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and often refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, although few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status due to an expensive and lengthy legal process. Discrimination, difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation, and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to individuals recorded as having crossed the border during the year.

As a member of UNASUR and an associate member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the UNASUR and MERCOSUR visas do not provide a safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for these visas, since the procedure was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visas are renewable based upon the same guidelines as the initial application, with only the additional requirement that the applicant provide an Ecuadorian Criminal Records Certificate.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The criminal code includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a fine for “damages, pain, and suffering” ranging from $350 to $5,300, depending on the severity of the crime. The law stipulates penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence.

On February 5, the Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women went into effect. The law seeks to prevent and provide reparation to victims of gender-based violence. It also advocates for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual harassment and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor reported 202 killings of women between January 2017 and July 2018. A report by four civil society organizations indicated there were 64 cases of femicide between January 1 and October 2. According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault because of fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.

During the year the government offered installation of emergency buttons in the homes of potential gender-based violence victims and established toll-free telephone lines with personnel trained to support victims of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, together with some local and provincial governments and NGOs, also provided psychosocial services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The ministry subsidized shelters and other initiatives, including medical services at care centers and private clinics. Based on 2016 statistics, there were 50 judicial units and 78 courts specializing in gender-based violence. The judicial units have responsibility for collecting complaints and assisting victims in ordering arrest warrants for up to 30 days of detention against the aggressor. Victims and NGOs expressed concern the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload and that judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common. The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 739 complaints of sexual harassment during the first trimester of the year. Of the 2,067 complaints received in 2017, as of July officials were investigating 48 cases and the courts had convicted and sentenced 12 perpetrators.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On March 8, El Universo cited figures by the National Institute of Statistics and Census that in 2017 the average monthly income of an employed man was 20 percent more than a woman working under the same conditions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. NGOs reported the problem particularly affected refugee children. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: According to the constitution, education is obligatory through ninth grade and free through 12th grade. Nonetheless, costs for school-related items, such as uniforms and books, as well as a lack of space in public schools, continued to be an impediment to adolescents attending school.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 90 years in prison depending on the severity of the abuse.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 4,800 complaints of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse against minors between 2015 and September 2018. At least 714 of these alleged crimes took place in elementary and secondary schools. NGOs reported that children living in the streets or in rural parts of the country, many of whom came from poor indigenous families, suffered from exploitative conditions. Throughout the year the Ministry of Education sent officials to investigate reported cases of child abuse in educational establishments. In October the National Assembly’s special legislative committee to investigate the judicial handling of child abuse complaints met to review its final draft report. Since its creation in 2017, the committee had issued several reports on the efficiency of government institutions in processing child abuse cases.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On June 22, officials from the Ministry of Education launched a campaign to combat the problem. Antiviolence teams visited 251 public schools in the coastal region to identify bullying and reviewed cases of students with repetitive violent conduct. In the city of Guayaquil, officials reported 175 cases of bullying in the 12 months preceding October.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The age of consent is 14. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

President Moreno promoted social initiatives to raise awareness about disability rights. In October 2017 the president replaced procedural regulations that went into effect in 2013 with executive decree 194, which broadens the defined legal recognition of a disability and increases tax benefits for persons with disabilities; however, human rights activists noted that much work remained. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. According to a December 2017 article in El Telegrafo, the National Council on Disability Equality reported there were not enough ramps for persons with disabilities that used public transport in Quito and that architectural barriers used in constructions in public spaces were obstacles.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage, increases access and inclusion in education, and creates a new program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. In 2009 the government began implementing a national plan to eradicate racial discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic and cultural differences. From 2013 to 2017, the government implemented a national agenda to promote the equality of indigenous peoples and nationalities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. Afro-Ecuadorian activist Antonio Ayovi reported in September 2017 that “racism, discrimination, and intolerance affect almost all sectors of the Ecuadorian population ….”

Indigenous People

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation before the execution of projects that affect their rights. It also provides for their right to participate in decisions about the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands and that could affect their culture or environment. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country.

Throughout the year indigenous groups engaged in a national dialogue with the government in which they raised issues related to community development, intercultural education, respect for the application of indigenous law, and environmental rights and extractive industries. The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported on January 22 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous woman continued to lag behind the rest of the population. During the February 4 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

On July 17, legislator Encarnacion Duchi reported that in 2017 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador filed 180 petitions for amnesty related to convictions of indigenous protesters during the Correa administration. Human rights activists claimed that under Correa the government forcibly evicted indigenous communities from their ancestral territory, without respecting their constitutional rights, to facilitate the establishment of Chinese mining projects, leading to clashes between the Shuar community and local security forces. Duchi said the National Assembly’s Administrative Council had deemed only 33 cases merit-worthy and approved only one case.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation as a right. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

On May 31, the Constitutional Court ordered the Civil Registry Office to register a seven-year-old girl parented by a female same-sex couple with their last names. Human rights activists said the decision set a precedent favoring LGBTI rights by officially recognizing same-sex couples and their children as a family unit.

The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the LGBTI community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTI bias.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes (particularly in higher education). LGBTI students, particularly transgender individuals, were more susceptible to bullying in schools, and human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. LGBTI persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, although such treatment is illegal. The clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation. According to a local LGBTI organization, law enforcement officials closed at least two such clinics in Guayaquil in 2017.

Egypt

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions and provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies sometimes placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai, stating it was to protect their safety, although it began organizing some supervised visits for journalists to North Sinai in July.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Georgia, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.

The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists charged with offenses or under investigation. In 2016 Mada Masr reported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. Local human rights groups maintained authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case. A September 4 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country. In 2015 authorities prevented Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. In September 2017 authorities referred a case regarding comments she made on social media for military prosecution. No further information on the case was available.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On November 8, authorities in Sudan announced criminal charges against an activist named Mohamed Boshi for espionage and crimes against the state, which carry the death penalty. On November 15, HRW released a report alleging that Egyptian authorities had detained Boshi on October 10, while he was in Egypt as an asylum seeker, held him incommunicado, and subsequently refouled him to Sudan. Human Rights Watch stated that Boshi’s family told them Sudanese security officials contacted them on October 13 to say he was in their custody.

Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced more difficulties, including higher chances of detention or deportation.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register nor assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August 31, there were more than 235,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria, as well as from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen. Since 2017 the number of Syrian nationals registered as refugees has increased, although at a slower pace than in 2016. Observers attributed the increase to relaxed family reunification visa requirements, increased economic hardship faced by unregistered Syrians already residing in the country, young men attempting to avoid conscription in the national military or armed groups, and an increased fear of raids targeting unregistered migrants. Most Syrians continued to arrive by way of Sudan, which remained the only neighboring country to which Syrians could travel without visas. The number of African refugees also increased during the year, according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

Starting in mid-2013, the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in January 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently did not do so for detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims). Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. According to UNHCR refugees can fully access public-health services, although many do not have the resources to do so. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. The Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 school age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) enrolled successfully in the public school system.

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Civil society organizations reported police pressure not to pursue charges.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault victim produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse victims. Police often treated domestic violence as a social rather than criminal matter.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity supported eight women’s shelters. The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The National Council for Women (NCW), a quasi-governmental body, was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In 2015 the NCW launched a five-year National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women with four strategic objectives: prevention, protection, intervention, and prosecution. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year.

On August 31, journalist May al-Shamy filed a complaint accusing the editor in chief of the newspaper Youm7 of sexually assaulting her physically, on several occasions in the preceding month. The prosecution suspended its investigation into the case on October 31 due to a lack of evidence. Shamy’s appeal to reopen the investigation was rejected on November 5.

On November 25, the Investment and International Cooperation Ministry launched a national initiative for combating violence against women. The initiative groups international and local partners to conduct an awareness campaign against sexual harassment in means of transportation, in addition to all other forms of violence against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but it remained a serious problem. According to the 2015 Egypt Health Issues Survey, published during 2016 by the Ministry of Health and Population, 70 percent of girls between ages 15 and 19 had undergone FGM/C, a decrease from 81 percent in 2008. In May authorities reportedly arrested a doctor from Sohag University Hospital for allegedly conducting FGM/C on a 12-year-old girl.

On June 1, the Egyptian body, Dar al-Iftaa, responsible for issuing Islamic fatwas, declared FGM forbidden in Islam. On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the country’s grand mufti Shawqi Allam highlighted Dar al-Iftaa’s issuance of several fatwas confirming the rights of women and preventing FGM.

A 2016 amendment to the law designates FGM/C a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor as it was previously, and assigns penalties for conviction of five to seven years’ imprisonment for practitioners who perform the procedure or 15 years if the practice led to death or “permanent deformity.” The law granted exceptions in cases of “medical necessity,” which rights groups and subject matter experts identified as a problematic loophole that allowed the practice to continue. According to international and local observers, the government did not effectively enforce the FGM/C law.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. There were no reliable statistics regarding the incidence of killings and assaults motivated by “honor,” but local observers stated such killings occurred, particularly in rural areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. The government claimed it prioritized efforts to address sexual harassment. The penal code defines sexual harassment as a crime, with penalties including fines and sentences of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Media and NGOs reported sexual harassment by police was also a problem, and the potential for further harassment further discouraged women from filing complaints.

Authorities arrested individuals who complained of their experience with sexual harassment online, including activist Amal Fathy and Lebanese tourist Mona el-Mazbouh (see section 2.a.).

On September 9, the Qasr al-Nil misdemeanor court sentenced a man to two years in prison for sexually harassing two women while they were walking in downtown Cairo. The man also was fined and received a three-month sentence for assault. Authorities acquitted a second man of the same charges. When police responded to the incident, the two men alleged the women had assaulted them, and authorities took all four into custody. Authorities held the women in detention for 10 hours until their lawyer assured that they would return them for questioning.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. Women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men that hindered their social and economic advancement.

By the end of the year, the Ministry of Interior had implemented a 2017 decree issued by the prime minister to include at least one female officer at every police station.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula divorce allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches sometimes permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through the citizenship of their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after birth, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas, such as the Sinai Peninsula, resisted registration or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian refugees, but they largely excluded refugees of other nationalities.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. No dedicated government institution addressed child abuse, although several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

On September 11, authorities began to investigate reports social workers at the Beni Suef orphanage sexually assaulted children. Beni Suef’s governor also ordered an investigation of the orphanage’s board of directors.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. In a November 20 report, AI alleged it had documented six instances of torture and 12 instances of enforced disappearances involving children since 2015. The State Information Service released a response denying the report. According to a local rights group, police sometimes charged street children with unsolved crimes to increase perceived police effectiveness.

According to human rights organizations, security forces detained 12-year-old Abdullah Boumedine Nasr al-Din, in his home in December 2017 and accused him of joining a terrorist group and planting explosives. He was then allegedly forcibly disappeared for seven months before being brought before the State Security Prosecution and interrogated without an attorney in July. Authorities then transferred him to Azbakeya Police Station in Cairo where he reportedly spent more than three months in solitary confinement as of October 30.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. According to UNICEF 17 percent of girls married before age 18, and 2 percent of girls were married by age 15. According to NCW statistics, nearly 36 percent of marriages in rural areas in the southern part of the country included a partner who was not yet age 18. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry an Egyptian woman more than 25 years younger than he is must pay a fine of LE 50,000 ($2,790). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouraged child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system altogether. The Antitrafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), a governmental body, is responsible for raising awareness of the problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to LE 200,000 ($11,150) for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and the NCCM estimated the number of street children to be 16,000, while civil society organizations estimated the number to be in the millions. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population offered mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity offered 17 mobile units in 10 governorates, which provided emergency services, including food and health care, to street children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered fewer than eight individuals. There were a few reports of imams, who are appointed and paid by the government, using anti-Semitic rhetoric in their sermons.

Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned television endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and economy. In a June interview on state-owned Channel Two, a university law professor argued, “Jews control the money and the media,” adding that they have a 50-year plan to reach Mecca and Medina. In May the chair of the Hebrew Language Department at Menoufia University claimed, “Israeli violence…is embedded in the Jewish genes” during a weekly show dedicated to Jews and Israel on state-owned television Channel Two.

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 constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. During the year the government passed a law prohibiting discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing persons with disabilities of 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without actually employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

The Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity share responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions are informal schools run by NGOs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.

According to the constitution, the state should make efforts to return Nubians to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years of the constitution’s 2014 ratification.

In September 2017 security forces in Aswan arrested 25 Nubians who were participating in a protest to commemorate the 2011 detention of Nubians during a sit-in. The charges against them included protesting illegally and receiving funds from foreign sources. The death of one detainee while in custody triggered another protest in November 2017 by members of the Nubian community. Authorities reportedly arrested as many as 13 protesters at the event. A court ordered the original 24 detainees released; the next hearing for their case was scheduled for January 29. A State Security Misdemeanor Court acquitted seven defendants in the second case on October 28.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion” and provides for prison sentences if convicted of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTI persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. An October 2017 Supreme Media Council (a semigovernmental body) ban on media supporting LGBTI persons and their rights continued.

There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTI individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTI individuals or to avoid arrest. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTI foreigners.

There were credible reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTI advocates described as especially effective as LGBTI-friendly public spaces had largely closed during the past two years.

In January police in Alexandria arrested 10 men on charges related to debauchery and narcotics. Police reportedly stated one of the men rented an apartment for men “seeking pleasure from men.”

Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of debauchery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were incidents of mob violence and vigilantism, particularly sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians. On July 9, a mob of Muslims attacked Copts’ homes in the village of Minbal after a Copt allegedly posted content on social media offensive to Islam. Following the violence police arrested more than 90 Muslims and charged them with forming a mob, attacking Copts’ homes, inciting sedition, and attacking the police. Police also arrested the Copt, Abdu Adel Ayad, alleged to have made the offensive social media post. All of those arrested were released by late July following a customary reconciliation session except for a defendant accused of instigating the attack.

El Salvador

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions; however, a January news report claimed the state intelligence service tracked several journalists and collected compromising information about their private lives. The newspaper submitted photographic and whistleblower evidence to support its claim.

In many neighborhoods armed groups and gangs targeted certain persons; and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s controlled area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the criminal code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem. On July 31, the Salvadoran Organization of Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that in 2016 and 2017, only 5 percent of the 6,326 reported crimes against women went to trial. On July 4, police arrested a police commissioner for violating the terms of a restraining order protecting his spouse.

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of cases involving violence against women was 5,999 per 100,000 inhabitants and that 574 women were killed in 2015, 524 in 2016, and 469 in 2017.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides imprisonment for five to eight years. Courts may impose fines in addition where the perpetrator maintains a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On September 24, media reported the sole female member of an elite police unit was reassigned to a high threat precinct in retaliation for taking gender-discrimination claims to internal affairs inspectors. She said her uniforms were discarded, her sleeping quarters moved, and a colleague threatened to kill her.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. (For more information on maternal mortality and availability of contraception, see Appendix C.)

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights, but women did not enjoy equal pay or employment opportunities. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials who deny a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers who discriminate against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

On September 16, a labor union reported that a justice of the peace in Las Vueltas Chalatenango refused to promote a female clerk because she preferred a man have the position.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a $2.85 fine. Failure to register resulted in denial of school enrollment.

Education: Education is free, universal, compulsory through the ninth grade, and nominally free through high school. Rural areas, however, frequently did not provide required education to all eligible students due to a lack of resources and because rural parents often withdrew their children from school by the sixth grade, requiring them to work.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. The law gives children the right to petition the government without parental consent. Penalties for breaking the law include the child being taken into protective custody and three to 26 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the abuse.

On November 15, police arrested a woman in Juayua, Sonsonate, after she beat an 11-year-old child with a stick for losing a cell phone accessory. According to a 2016 National Health Survey, more than half of households punished their children physically and psychologically.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. The law bans child marriage to prevent child abusers from using legal technicalities to avoid imprisonment by marrying their victims.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers stipulate imprisonment from six to 10 years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18 and includes penalties of four to 13 years’ imprisonment for violations.

The law prohibits paying anyone younger than age 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children 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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, and mental disabilities. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but lacks enforcement power. According to CONAIPD, the government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.

According to CONAIPD, there is no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. Further, some academic institutions would not accept children with disabilities.

No formal system existed for filing a discrimination complaint involving a disability with the government.

Indigenous People

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. According to community leaders, gangs pushed out of urban centers by police mounted incursions and appropriated indigenous land. They also reported gang members threatened their children for crossing gang territorial lines artificially drawn across ancestral indigenous land, forcing some children to drop out of school or leave home.

According to the 2007 census, the most recent for which this data was available, there were 60 indigenous groups, and 0.4 percent of citizens identified as indigenous, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira) and Maya Chorti groups. A 2014 constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of indigenous people to maintain their cultural and ethnic identitiy, but no laws provide indigenous people rights to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

While the law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites, it does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on their land.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which also applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the criminal code provisions covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Persons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community stated that the PNC, and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.

As of July 31, the PDDH reported eight accusations made by the LGBTI community of five homicides, one unauthorized search, and one harassment complaint. The PDDH was unable to determine whether the incidents were bias-motivated. Activists also reported receiving death threats via social media; police generally failed to take action on these reports.

On April 16, the Ministry of Security and Justice led a formal signing ceremony for the Institutional Policy for the Protection of the LGBTI Community. A product of two years of roundtable dialogues, the policy instructs the security and migration sectors of government to consult with the Office of Secretariat for Social Inclusion to ensure LGBTI persons are treated in accordance with international standards in their interactions with the state. In November 2017 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced guidelines stating individuals cannot be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an LGBTI NGO, reported discrimination due to HIV was widespread. As of July 31, the PDDH reported four cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. This included use of pejorative language against an inmate by a prosecutor, denial of university access, lack of medical confidentiality in the prison system of an HIV-positive diagnosis and discriminatory treatment from other inmates, and discrimination by public-health caregivers to a child and her mother.

Ethiopia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property. Under the SOE court, approval for searches was suspended. Security officials had to provide a reason to the individual or household subject to the search, an official identification card, and have a community member accompany them before conducting a search. Separate from the SOE, the law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit” cases in which a suspect enters a premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises. This legal exception also applies when police have reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime punishable by more than three years’ imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and a delay in obtaining a search warrant would allow the evidence to be removed. Moreover, the ATP law permits warrantless searches of a person or vehicle when authorized by the director general of the Federal Police, his designee, or a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a terrorist act may be committed and deems a sudden search necessary.

Opposition political party leaders and journalists reported suspicions of telephone tapping, other electronic eavesdropping, and surveillance, and they stated government agents attempted to lure them into illegal acts by calling and pretending to be representatives of previously designated terrorist groups.

The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of individuals. Opposition members, journalists, and athletes reported ruling party operatives and militia members made intimidating and unwelcome visits to their homes and offices. These intimidating contacts included entry and searches of homes without a warrant.

There were reports that authorities dismissed opposition members from their jobs and that those not affiliated with the EPRDF sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their kebeles (neighborhoods or wards) necessary to obtain employment (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

While the government’s political transformation contributed to a reduction in the number of deaths from engagement with government forces, violence between communities and among citizens began to rise. In mid-June several days of communal violence in Hawassa, capital of SNNPR, and Wolaita, SNNPR, left 15 persons dead, according to official accounts. Violence between the nearby communities of Gedeo-Guji displaced approximately one million persons and exceeded the ability of law enforcement to maintain peace.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and conviction provides for a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The government did not fully enforce the law. Article 564 of the criminal code generally covers violence against a marriage partner or a person cohabiting in an irregular union without specifically mentioning spousal rape. Some judges interpret this article to cover spousal rape cases, but others overlook such cases.

Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws was inconsistent. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 34 percent of ever-married women and girls between ages 15 and 49 had experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence. Depending on the severity of injury inflicted, penalties for conviction range from small fines to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The 2016 DHS indicated that 65 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 were circumcised. The prevalence of female circumcision was highest in the Somali Region (99 percent) and lowest in the Tigray Region (23 percent). FGM/C is illegal, with punishment including imprisonment and a fine, depending on the crime. The government did not actively enforce this prohibition. It was less common in urban areas. The penal code criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy and provides for three months’ imprisonment or a fine of at least 500 birr ($18) for perpetrators. Infibulation of the genitals (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to government sources, there had never been a criminal charge regarding FGM/C, but media reported limited application of the law.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes penalties for conviction of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Discrimination against women was widespread. It was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived. The law contains discriminatory regulations, such as the recognition of the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children older than five. Courts generally did not consider domestic violence by itself a justification for granting a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years married, the number of children raised, and joint property, the law entitles women to only three months’ financial support if her relationship ends. There was limited legal recognition of common-law marriage. A common-law husband had no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family, and consequently women and children sometimes faced abandonment. Traditional courts continued to apply customary law in economic and social relationships.

All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property acquired during marriage; however, enforcement of both legal provisions was uneven.

Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by their lower levels of educational attainment and by traditional attitudes. There were a number of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s access to these critical economic empowerment tools.

Children

Birth Registration: A child’s citizenship derives from its parents. The law requires registration for children at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. During the year the government continued a campaign initiated in 2017 to increase birth registrations by advising that failure to register would result in denial of public services.

Education: The law does not make education compulsory. Primary education is universal and tuition-free; however, there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s youth, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. The most recent data showed the net primary school enrollment rate was 90 percent for boys and 84 percent for girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk tooth extraction were among the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for sexual violence against children. “Child-friendly” benches heard cases involving violence against children and women. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs in the EHRC and Ombudsman’s Office.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18; however, authorities did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 birr ($357) for conviction of trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. Traffickers recruited girls as young as age 11 to work in brothels. Young girls were trafficked from rural to urban areas and exploited as prostitutes in hotels, bars, resort towns, and rural truck stops.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly in South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.

Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets; 60,000 of them were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income exacerbated the problem. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-urban migration were adding to the problem. These children often begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector.

Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, 4.9 percent of the population, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Governmental and privately operated orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions often unsanitary. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. On January 9, the parliament passed legislation banning intercountry adoptions, as part of a broader amendment of the family law. 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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the Addis Ababa Jewish community reported it felt protected by the government to practice its faith but did face limited societal discrimination.

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 constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment and mandates access to buildings but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It is illegal for deaf persons to drive.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. It also makes employers responsible for providing appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on women with disabilities. The government took limited measures to enforce these laws, for example, by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing civil service employees. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission were responsible for the implementation of employment laws for individuals with disabilities.

The law mandates building accessibility and accessible toilet facilities for persons with physical disabilities, although without specific regulations that define accessibility standards. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not disability accessible. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and they generally did so.

According to a report from the UN Population Fund and the Population Council, one in every three girls with disabilities suffered at least one sexual assault. They also faced systematic and violent abuse at home and in their communities. The report stated many were blamed for being different and feared because they were seen to be under the spell of witchcraft.

Women with disabilities faced more disadvantages in education and employment. According to the 2010 Population Council Young Adult Survey, 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities. Girls with disabilities also were much more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse than were girls without disabilities.

Nationally there were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the nine regional states.

The Labor Ministry worked on disability-related problems. The CSO law hindered several domestic NGOs active in supporting persons with disabilities, particularly those focused on accessibility and vocational training.

The law does not restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although continued accessibility problems could make participation difficult. Most polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities, and these individuals as well as the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers received priority.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, at approximately 34 percent of the population, is the largest. The federal system drew boundaries approximately along major ethnic group lines during the early years of EPRDF rule and the drafting of the current constitution. Most political parties remained primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties were coalitions of several ethnically based parties.

On September 15 and 16, youth purported to be Oromo attacked citizens in Burayu, Keta, and Ashewa Meda (Oromia towns just west of Addis Ababa), killing 27 residents mostly belonging to the Gamo and related ethnic groups that originated in SNNPR Region. Police detained hundreds of suspects for involvement in the attacks. On September 17, residents of Addis Ababa and Arba Minch, in SNNPR Region, staged large protests condemning the ethnic attacks. The protests in parts of Addis Ababa turned violent and led to loss of lives at the hands of security forces. Security forces killed seven protesters, claiming they attempted to seize firearms. Police arrested 170 individuals in Addis Ababa for suspected involvement in the violence and an additional 1,200 for allegedly attempting to escalate the violence.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were reports of violence against LGBTI individuals; however, reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals generally did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community reported surveillance and feared for their safety. There were no reports of persons incarcerated or prosecuted for engaging in same-sex sexual activities.

The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS continued in education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Intercommunal conflict in parts of Oromia and SNNP resulted in the displacement of nearly a million people in SNNP’s Gedeo Zone and Oromia’s West Guji Zone since April, with the majority of displacements occurring in June, according to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix.

Fiji

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, but the POA permits military personnel to search persons and premises without a warrant from a court and to take photographs, fingerprints, and measurements of any person. Police and military officers also may enter private premises to break up any meeting considered unlawful. There were no credible reports police did so during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Under the POA, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The POA authorizes the government to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the movement of persons, but there were no reports the government restricted any person’s in-country movement during the year.

Exile: In 2017 opposition parties called on the government to lift travel bans on all existing and former citizens, including former citizen and academic Brij Lal. The Immigration Department has stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place at the end of the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. There was a large increase in reports of rape during the year, due in part to greater awareness that spousal rape is a crime.

The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to pursue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Courts dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. In May police completed an investigation into a case of incest and rape of a 12-year-old girl but had not filed charges by year’s end. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in both indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In some cases authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law, but local authorities often excluded them from the decision-making process on disposition of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share in the distribution of indigenous land lease proceeds, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty receiving protection orders enforced by police in domestic violence cases.

Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.

Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended family structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be contributing factors to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. The government continued its public awareness campaign against child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at age 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In indigenous villages, girls younger than age 18 who became pregnant could live as common-law wives with their child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint to police by the family. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 years for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred during the year.

It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children in his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses during the year.

Some high-school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were trafficked for commercial sex during the year, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The court of appeals has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child age 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, a fine of F$25,000 ($11,800), or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a maximum fine of F$50,000 ($23,600); or both for a repeat offense, and the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.

The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers and health and social welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The constitution addresses specifically the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to materials and devices related to the disability; the law, however, does not further define “reasonable.” Moreover, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Statutes provide for the right of access to places and all modes of transport generally open to the public. Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting them.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but only a few buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. Parliament continued to televise its sessions in sign language to improve access for persons with hearing disabilities.

There were a number of separate schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported persons with such disabilities at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.

The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. In 2016 the office signed an agreement with the Pacific Disability Forum and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons to create an Elections Disability Access Working Group to improve political participation by the country’s disability community. The national council, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 14 election for voters with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tension between indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. As of July 2017, indigenous Fijians comprised an estimated 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of indigenous Fijians and Rotumans, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Although Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, indigenous Fijians continued to dominate the security forces.

Land tenure remained a highly sensitive and politicized topic. Indigenous Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land; the government, 4 percent; and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom are descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed this limited their ability to own land and their consequent dependence on leased land from indigenous Fijians constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many indigenous Fijian landowners believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.

By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners known as the Vola ni Kawa Bula (native land register). The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and justifies titleholders within indigenous communities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.

In November authorities arrested Saula Temo and charged him in the May death of a transgender man in a suspected hate crime. The case was pending at year’s end.

Gabon

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities also monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law does not address spousal rape. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women virtually never filed complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provided in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work police intervened in response to incidents of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it remained a widespread problem. NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the military was pervasive.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women owned businesses and property, participated in politics, and worked in government and the private sector. Nevertheless, women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs. Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of awareness of the requirements of the law. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although education is compulsory until age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. There was no significant difference in the rates of enrollment between boys and girls; however, due to high rates of early pregnancy, girls were less likely to complete school than were boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, with penalties for conviction of up to life in prison, one million CFA francs ($1,700), or both. Child abuse occurred, but the law was not regularly enforced.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. Perpetrators convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Conviction of child trafficking is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 10 million to 20 million CFA francs ($17,000 to $34,000). Conviction of possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of six months to one year and a fine of up to 222,000 CFA francs ($378). These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access, hindering access to state services and the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. There was accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because buildings were not accessible. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.

Indigenous People

The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. The law grants members of indigenous ethnic groups the same civil rights as other citizens, but they experienced societal discrimination. They remained largely outside of formal authority–keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures–and did not have ready access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population. No specific government programs or policies assisted them.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize sexual orientation or limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There were no reports LGBTI persons were targeted for abuse, but underreporting of such incidents was likely, in view of societal stigma. Societal discrimination in employment and housing was a problem, particularly for openly LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs removed occurred and often went unpunished. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing. The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported 24 victims of ritual killings and five disappearances from January to October. The actual number of victims was probably higher because many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized.

Georgia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting nonconsensual electronic surveillance or monitoring operations without a warrant. NGOs, media, and others asserted that the government did not respect these prohibitions. For example, there were widespread reports that the government monitored the political opposition. Local and international NGOs also reported that government officials monitored independent Azerbaijani journalists and activists residing in the country. In a June 18 report, Transparency International/Georgia and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center raised concerns about the State Security Service’s secret surveillance system due to lack of political neutrality and weak oversight.

As of year’s end, cases submitted to the Constitutional Court challenging a law on electronic surveillance were pending. The plaintiffs (NGOs and the PDO) asserted the law did not satisfy the requirements of a 2016 Constitutional Court ruling requiring an independent body to oversee electronic surveillance.

Some opposition politicians raised concerns that the government was prolonging a 2016 the investigation in order to justify monitoring political opponents allegedly involved in the recording or to sway voters ahead of the fall presidential elections (see Section 3). The investigation concerns audio tapes in which, allegedly, certain opposition leaders discuss organizing a revolution.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation of citizens, but de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces limited this freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The government cooperated with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and most other persons of concern. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs, however, alleged that authorities made politically motivated decisions on asylum and other requests affecting selected Turkish and Azerbaijani citizens.

In-country Movement: There were substantial impediments to freedom of internal movement due to a lack of access to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The majority of the approximately 300,000 IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia wished to return to their areas of origin but lacked adequate security provisions and political, human, economic, and movement rights absent a political resolution to the conflicts.

Foreigners were restricted from moving in and out of South Ossetia but could access Abkhazia with approval from the de facto authorities. There were reports that late in the year citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States countries were prohibited from entering Abkhazia except from Russia, which violated Georgian law. This placed additional restrictions on international humanitarian access to Abkhazia. Crossing permits introduced by de facto South Ossetian authorities were the only document that allowed movement across the South Ossetia ABL to or from Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT).

Some residents of Abkhazia who used their Georgian passports had to obtain permission from de facto security services to cross the Abkhazia ABL to or from TAT. Georgian passport holders could cross a checkpoint if they possessed invitation letters cleared by the de facto state security services allowing them to enter Abkhazia. The latter did not consistently provide permission to cross and limited movement to specific areas. In August de facto authorities suddenly declared older Soviet-era passports, used by thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, to be no longer valid for crossing, threatening the livelihood of many residents. De facto authorities then blocked some ethnic Georgians who had used Soviet-era passports to cross into TAT from returning to Abkhazia. De facto authorities claimed that residents without valid crossing documents would be allowed to apply for residence permits, which would enable them to cross, but it remained unclear how these new regulations would be implemented.

Georgian law prohibits entry into and exit from the breakaway regions through the territory of neighboring states (i.e., Russia).

Russian and Abkhaz de facto authorities limited international organizations’ ability to operate in Abkhazia. Russian and South Ossetian de facto authorities limited international organizations, including humanitarian organizations, access to South Ossetia; however, the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions–representing the United Nations, the OSCE, and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia–visited South Ossetia quarterly prior to each round of the discussions, accompanied by UNHCR. The ICRC office in Tskhinvali was the only international organization representation in South Ossetia.

De facto authorities and Russian forces in the Russian-occupied territories also restricted the movement of the local population across the ABL, although they showed flexibility for travel for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education. Villagers who approached the line or crossings risked detention by Russian Federation “border guards.” Russian border guards along the ABL with Abkhazia typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities through detentions and fines. Along the South Ossetia ABL, Russian border guards frequently transferred individuals to de facto authorities. The SSSG reported that detentions by de facto authorities typically lasted two to three days until the detainee paid “fines” set by the de facto “court,” although some sentences for “violations of the state border” carried considerably longer terms.

The European Union Monitoring Mission was aware of 14 individuals detained along the ABL with Abkhazia and 92 detained along the line with South Ossetia as of November. There were credible reports based on local sources that, on several occasions, local South Ossetian or Russian “border guards” crossed into government-controlled territory to detain an individual. There were also reports of arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians by de facto authorities, particularly in the Tskhinvali and Gali regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively. Most often, the arrested individuals were accused of violating the “state border.” According to EUMM, many detainees were obliged to sign documents in Russian that they did not understand.

De facto authorities continued to expand fencing and other physical barriers along the ABL between the government-administered area and South Ossetia. This expansion of the Russian “borderization” policy further restricted movement, creating physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries. In November, Russian occupation forces in South Ossetia erected fencing along a one-kilometer line at the village of Atotsi, Kareli Municipality. Local residents reported they had already tilled and sowed the land that was then taken away, and they would not be able to reap the harvest.

In March 2017 Abkhaz de facto authorities closed two crossing points across the ABL, leaving crossing points open only at the Enguri Bridge and Saberio-Pakhulani. As access to government-administered territory became more restricted and visits to family and friends living across the ABL much more difficult to arrange, the closure of crossing points further impoverished and isolated the population in lower Gali and contributed to a growing sense of isolation. The closure also prevented children from attending classes in their native Georgian language across the ABL.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As part of a broader consolidation plan, the government abolished the Ministry for Refugees, Accommodation, and Internally Displaced Persons in August, dividing the ministry’s responsibilities among the Ministries of Interior, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, as well as the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. According to the government, as of August, there were approximately 280,000 IDPs from the 1992-93 and 2008 conflicts. UNHCR estimated 235,176 persons were in an “IDP-like” situation, some 50,000 of whom were in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. This number included individuals who have returned to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as those displaced in the 2008 conflict who subsequently were relocated, or have obtained housing or cash compensation.

Most persons displaced in 2008 received formal IDP status in accordance with national legislation, although some individuals who were not displaced by the 2008 conflict and lived close to the ABL were officially described as being in an “IDP-like situation.” The government provided monthly allowances to persons recognized as IDPs, promoted their socioeconomic integration, and sought to create conditions for their return in safety and dignity.

Despite their 1994 agreement with Georgia, Russia, and UNHCR that called for the safe, secure, and voluntary return of IDPs who fled during the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz de facto authorities continued to prevent the return of those displaced by the war. Between 45,000 and 60,000 IDPs have returned since that time to the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli regions of lower Abkhazia, but Abkhaz de facto authorities refused to allow the return of IDPs to other regions. De facto authorities prevented IDPs living elsewhere in the country from reclaiming homes in Abkhazia, based on a “law” that expropriated all “abandoned property” from the 1992-93 war. IDPs who returned were allowed to sell but were barred from buying property.

Ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status. De facto authorities continued to pressure ethnic Georgians to acquire a “foreign residency permit,” which allows the holder to cross the ABL and remain in Abkhazia for a period of five years. An applicant must, however, accept the status of an alien (i.e., a Georgian living as a foreigner in Abkhazia), may not purchase property, may not transfer residency rights of property to children born in de facto controlled territory, may not vote, and must accept a lack of other basic rights. As of December 31, de facto authorities continued to allow ethnic Georgians to cross the ABL with “Form Number Nine,” an administrative pass that de facto authorities had previously threatened to discontinue.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: A 2017 law remained in effect guaranteeing access to international protection, including access to asylum or refugee status. NGOs, however, alleged that executive and judicial authorities made politically motivated decisions in response to asylum requests by some Turkish citizens and a number of Azerbaijani citizens.

The law distinguishes among three types of protection: a) refugee status (as per the 1951 Refugee Convention), b) protected humanitarian status (complementary protection), and c) temporary protection. In 2017, the government’s acceptance rate for granting refugee or humanitarian status was 18 percent. During the first six months of the year, the overall acceptance rate was 6.8 percent (25 were recognized as eligible for refugee or humanitarian status while 343 were rejected).

In February, authorities released on bail a Turkish citizen, Mustafa Emre Cabuk. The release followed a statement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s co-rapporteurs for Georgia questioning the use of pretrial detention for asylum seekers and urging that asylum requests “should be based only on humanitarian and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, whose requirements should be fully applied.” In July 2017, the government had denied asylum Cabuk and his family after it detained him following a Turkish government extradition request, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The Public Defender’s Office and local and international NGOs continued to raise concerns about the government’s refusal to grant asylum, other protected status, or residency permits to a number of Azerbaijani journalists and activists. The NGOs claimed the individuals were politically persecuted in Azerbaijan and accused the Georgian government of rejecting the asylum and residence permit requests despite continued pressure against activists by the Azerbaijani government. The NGOs reported the government based its refusal of asylum and residence permits on national security interests without giving clear reasons or citing relevant legislation. In 2017 three NGOs reported that Azerbaijani dissidents no longer viewed the country as a safe haven.

The Public Defender’s Office reported it found several unreasonable instances of refusal to grant citizenship, asylum/refugee status, and residency permits to foreigners on national security grounds after reviewing the government’s confidential considerations in some cases.

Employment: Asylum seekers (from the start of the asylum procedure) and persons under international protection have legal access to the labor market. Foreigners, including persons under international protection, can register at the “Worknet” state program for vocational training and skills development.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided limited assistance to persons with protected status. In 2017 the government opened an integration center to provide structured integration programs for such persons. The country’s reception center had adequate services for asylum seekers and had capacity for approximately 150 persons.

The law enables refugees and asylum seekers to receive a temporary residence permit during the entirety of their asylum procedure as well as documentation necessary to open a bank account and register a business or property. Refugees receive a renewable temporary residence permit for three years, while protected humanitarian status holders receive a permit for one year, renewable upon a positive assessment of the need for continued protection. Access to education remained a problem due to the language barrier, notwithstanding the government’s provision of Georgian language classes.

Durable Solutions: The government offered a path to naturalization for refugees residing on its territory. The naturalization process began in 2009, when there were 1,200 Chechen refugees in Pankisi. As of November, 58 percent (699) applied for citizenship. Out of these applications, the government naturalized 78 percent (545) and rejected 22 percent (154). Approximately 17.5 percent (211) of the initial refugee population remained in Pankisi and had yet to be naturalized, including several whose applications authorities rejected because they failed to pass the required language and history tests. Authorities purportedly denied others naturalization based on national security concerns.

Temporary Protection: The law provided for avenues to temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The law provided temporary residence permits, but these permits are not a form of international protection per se in the meaning of refugee law. The Ministry of Internal Affairs may grant these temporary permits to individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but who were rejected on national security grounds. From January to June, 433 persons applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to three percent (13). In the first six months of 2017, 379 individuals applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to six percent (22).

STATELESS PERSONS

According to government statistics, as of October, authorities granted 22 percent of the year’s applications for stateless status (eight out of 32).

The law defines a stateless person in line with the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and lists specific rights and responsibilities of stateless persons. The law provides that an adult can be granted citizenship if he or she has permanently resided on the country’s territory during the previous five years; knows the state language; is familiar with the country’s history and laws and able to pass the relevant tests; and has a job or owns real estate on the country’s territory, conducts business, or owns shares in a Georgian company or industry. In exceptional cases, the president may grant citizenship to individuals who do not satisfy these requirements.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but criminal law does not specifically address spousal rape. A convicted first time offender may be imprisoned for up to eight years. Through June, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated investigations in 14 rape cases, compared to seven in 2017. The government enforced the law effectively.

In cases that do not result in injury, penalties for conviction of domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or imprisonment for up to one year. Domestic and other violence against women remained a significant problem, which the government took several steps to combat. Such steps included designating specialized prosecutors to handle such offences and creating a risk assessment tool for police officers responding to such incidents. In May Parliament adopted amendments enabling courts to take away the right to carry firearms from persons convicted of domestic violence.

NGOs reported the Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs took significant steps to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence, including a new risk assessment tool announced by the ministry to aid police in protecting victims. The ministry developed the tool, which went into effect September 1, in tandem with NGOs and human rights organizations. Media reported, however, some instances of police ignoring or covering up cases of domestic violence, particularly if the accused were associated with the ministry.

NGOs and the government expanded the services provided to victims of domestic violence in recent years. NGOs claimed public awareness of legal remedies had grown, leading to the quadrupling of reported cases of domestic violence in recent years. In 2017 authorities prosecuted 1,986 domestic violence cases, as compared to 550 in 2014. In 2014 only 14 percent of defendants were placed in pretrial detention, while that figure reached 83 percent in 2017. NGOs reported law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Tbilisi showed improved professionalism in handling domestic violence crimes.

Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 330 feet of the victim and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for six months. The Public Defender’s Office stated that victims often reported receiving inadequate responses from law enforcement officers to restraining order violations. As of August, violating a restraining order was considered a criminal offense on the first rather than the second occurrence.

Local NGOs and the government jointly operated a 24-hour hotline and shelters for abused women and their minor children, although space in the shelters was limited and only four of the country’s 10 regions had facilities.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities but was rare. The Public Defender’s Office reported some cases of kidnapping for marriage, forced marriage, and early marriage in its 2017 report. In October, the Georgian Women’s Movement, a group of human rights and gender equality activists, criticized police delays in teen bride kidnapping investigations, almost exclusively concentrated in ethnic minority regions.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. The criminal code criminalizes harassment. In March the Ministry of Internal Affairs began investigating a sexual harassment case initiated by several women against the head of a prominent civil organization. The case sparked public debate about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Public Defender’s Office reported it received 14 allegations of sexual harassment during the year. The PDO referred two of these cases to the courts, but the majority were outside the statute of limitations, which stands at three months after the victim becomes aware of the discrimination against them. The government initiated a sexual harassment training course for all civil servants to raise awareness of the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Civil society organizations continued to report discrimination against women in the workplace. In April Parliament passed a gender equality action plan. On May 15, Parliament held the first National Conference on Gender Equality in Local Municipalities, which underlined the importance of women in leadership. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality cases, in particular of domestic violence and workplace harassment.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory, and children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of births were registered before the child reached the age of five.

Since 2015, UNHCR has reported a widening documentation gap in Abkhazia, noting that fewer residents of Gali District held valid documents due to the expiration and nonrenewal of documentation by de facto authorities there. The solution offered by de facto authorities, i.e., to issue permanent residence permits, did not provide the full scope of rights and was not welcomed by the majority of Gali District residents who did not wish to declare themselves foreigners living in their ancestral land. While IDP returnees were in principle able to get their children’s births registered with de facto authorities, they preferred to have their births registered with Georgian authorities.

Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked the documentation to enroll in school. The level of school attendance was low for children belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as street children and children with disabilities or in foster care. The Public Defender’s Office reported that violence, negligence, and other forms of mistreatment were still acute in educational institutions. According to a UNICEF study released in July, the majority of street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.

Child Abuse: Various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, were punishable by a spectrum of prison terms and fines. Domestic violence against minors was punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, and the trafficking of minors was punishable by imprisonment anywhere from eight to twenty years depending on the specific circumstance.

Authorities referred children who suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Conviction of forced marriage of an individual younger than 18 is punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. As of August, the Public Defender’s Office was reviewing 22 instances of alleged early marriage. During the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into four cases. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year, although there were no official statistics. Child marriages reportedly occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Convictions relating to commercial sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law classifies sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided the perpetrator is proven to be aware of the victim’s age. The penalty is up to nine years’ imprisonment; the government generally enforced the law. Conviction of other sexual crimes carried increased levels of punishment if the victim was a juvenile. As of July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into 17 cases of rape of a minor and 159 cases involving other sex-related crimes.

In July UNICEF reported street children were particularly vulnerable to violence from caretakers and fellow street youth. According to testimonies from children living on the streets of Tbilisi, internal group dynamics among these children sometimes entailed sexual “reward” structures that exposed primarily girls to abuse at the hands of older group members.

Displaced Children: The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information about street children and noted the inadequacy of resources devoted to them. It was unclear how many were geographically displaced and a significant portion belonged to families that migrated seasonally to Georgia from Azerbaijan.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued replacing large-scale orphanages with smaller foster parenting arrangements. According to the Social Service Agency, as of August, 340 children were housed in 47 small-group homes and 1,483 children were placed in different forms of foster care. The government provided grants for higher education for institutionalized and foster-care children, including full coverage of tuition and a stipend, and provided emergency assistance to foster families.

UNICEF and a foreign development agency supported the government in developing small-scale facilities for children with severe and profound disabilities with the view to closing the Tbilisi infant home.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons. There were no reliable reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system and right to a fair trial, and the provision of other government or private sector services, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The PDO reported that persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating fully in public life. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children from public view. Discrimination in employment was also a problem.

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities and stipulates fines for noncompliance. Very few public facilities or buildings, however, were accessible. Public and private transportation generally did not accommodate persons with disabilities, and sidewalk and street crossing access was poor.

The Public Defender’s Office stated that inclusive education remained a major challenge. Despite the introduction of inclusive education in professional and general educational institutions, preschool and higher education were not part of the system. Only a limited number of preschools among the 165 monitored by the PDO in Tbilisi in 2016 were accessible to children with disabilities. The PDO has not conducted specific monitoring of preschool institutions since then, but maintained that the situation has not changed.

The PDO reported that state-run institutions caring for persons with disabilities lacked the infrastructure, trained staff, psychosocial services, and contact with the outside world and families needed to provide for the delivery of services. It raised concerns about a high number of deaths of residents in regional facilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into several deaths at state-run institutions, but the PDO reported its study of these investigations revealed the investigations were ineffective.

In April 2017, parents of children with disabilities protested the unequal distribution of government assistance for persons with disabilities and claimed that children in only some regions received government funding. The parents requested an increased budget for rehabilitation programs for children with disabilities then, but the budget for the year showed no change.

Out of 46,708 public sector employees, just 55 were persons with disabilities in 2017. Legislation that disqualifies a person with disabilities working the public sector from receiving state disability assistance may be a disincentive to such work.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The PDO and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. During the year, the PDO received nine claims of discrimination based on national/ethnic origin. In only one of these cases, in which a person with permanent residence was denied access to state health care programs, did the courts determine that a person had been discriminated against based on their nationality/ethnicity. Despite noting advancements in minority protection and civic integration during the year, the PDO reported efforts to address remaining gaps remained insufficient. NGOs found on minority rights that victims rarely registered claims due to a lack of knowledge about their rights and criticized authorities for not raising greater awareness in minority communities.

As of November 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported five individuals were detained for committing a crime on the basis of nationality, race, or ethnicity.

In September minority rights activist Vitali Safarov was killed outside a popular bar in central Tbilisi. Human rights NGOs alleged the two men responsible were members of a neo-Nazi group, and witnesses reported the altercation began because the activist was speaking Russian rather than Georgian. The NGOs advocated for the addition of xenophobic pretext to the murder charges, which would carry a heavier punishment. On October 31, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office added the charge of “premeditated murder due to racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance due to his nationality and profession.” As of November, the investigation continued. The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.

The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.

Weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities, in addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration. Some minorities asserted that the law requiring “adequate command of the official language” to work as a civil servant excluded them from participating in government. The Public Defender’s Office reported that involving ethnic minorities in national decision-making processes remained a problem due to the small number of representatives of ethnic minorities in the central government.

The government continued its “1+4” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for a year prior to their university studies. According to a quota system, the government assigned 12 percent of all bachelor or higher certificate-level placements to students with ethnic minority backgrounds. Of these reserved slots, ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities each received 40 percent of the slots (about five percent of the total slots), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (about one percent of the total slots).

The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians deported in 1944. According to the former ministry of refugees and accommodation–whose functions were spread over the Ministries of Infrastructure, Internal Affairs, and Labor, Health, and Social Affairs–1,998 of more than 5,841 applications were approved by August. Of this number, 494 applicants received “conditional citizenship,” which, according to a presidential decree, grants them “full Georgian citizenship” upon renouncing their foreign citizenship within five years.

De facto Abkhaz authorities enacted policies that threaten the legal status of ethnic Georgians living in the Gali District of Abkhazia. They closed village schools and forced ethnic Georgians to study strictly in the Russian language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. In 2015 de facto authorities shifted the language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali to Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and the de facto authorities have prohibited Georgian language instruction since the 2008 conflict. The Public Defender’s Office noted that, in the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli Districts, ethnic Georgian students and teachers had poor command of Russian, and therefore Russian-only instruction had significantly affected the quality of their education. Local communities had to either pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from undisputed government territory to teach, or send their children across the ABL for Georgian-language lessons. According to the EUMM, some Gali students seeking to attend school in government administered territory faced difficulties at the start of the school year crossing the ABL to attend school. Secondary school graduates had to cross the administrative boundary to take university entrance examinations. In February the EUMM noted that fewer schoolchildren were crossing the ABL, and there were more reports of barriers to studying in their mother tongue.

South Ossetian de facto authorities also required ethnic Georgians of all ages to study in Russian.

The government continued to report discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the occupied territories. The public defender noted the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The criminal code makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law, and law enforcement authorities lacked robust training on hate crimes. According to the LGBTI community, the law provides for legal gender recognition for transgender persons.

The PDO reported that LGBTI individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTI rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year. The authorities opened investigations into several of the cases, including one that resulted in the court instructing law enforcement officers to be more responsible when performing their duties. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge. LGBTI organizations, NGOs, and the PDO reported that the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTI community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the LGBTI community.

LGBTI activists reported that it was common for them to close their offices due to threats to their staff’s safety. On September 28, four individuals associated with Equality Movement, a prominent LGBTI rights NGO, allegedly came under attack in their office’s backyard. The attackers allegedly shouted homophobic slurs during the physical assault. Facing ongoing threats, Equality Movement moved its office to a temporary location under private guard protection. As of November, the investigation was pending.

There were no results in two separate government investigations into the August 2017 accusations by two LGBTI organizations’ leaders that Batumi police officers physically abused them after police officers failed to intervene in their physical assault by several persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. NGOs reported that social stigma caused individuals to avoid testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Some health-care providers, particularly dentists, refused to provide services to HIV-positive persons. Individuals often concealed their HIV/AIDS status from employers due to fear of losing their jobs.

Ghana

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women but not spousal rape. Sexual assault on a male can be charged as indecent assault. Prison sentences for those convicted of rape range from five to 25 years, while indecent assault is a misdemeanor subject to a minimum term of imprisonment of six months.

Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems. Survey data released in 2016 suggested 28 percent of women and 20 percent of men had experienced at least one type of domestic violence in the 12 months prior to the study.

The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Board, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate resources and logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, hindered the full application of the Domestic Violence Act. Pervasive cultural beliefs in women’s roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. According to a 2014 study, almost one-third of girls and women ages 15-24 believed wife beating could be justified. The Domestic Violence Secretariat’s management board was not established by the new administration until March.

Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills, shelter facilities, and other resources to assist victims. Few of the cases wherein police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate resources and training on investigatory techniques, police prosecutor case mismanagement, and, according to the DOVVSU, lack of resources on the part of victims and their families to pursue cases. There was also no shelter to which police could refer victims. In cases deemed less severe, victims were returned to their homes. Otherwise, the DOVVSU contacted NGOs to identify temporary shelters. Authorities reported officers occasionally had no alternative but to shelter victims in their own residences until other arrangements could be made.

The DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. There was also an SGBV workshop provided for police in January.

Due to limited resources, a hotline for victims of domestic violence was suspended, although the DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. The DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and SGBV, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than 18 years. Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. A man was arrested in December 2017 and confessed to killing an elderly woman to use her body parts to perform a ritual. In the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” were banished by their families or traditional village authorities to “witch camps.” Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which persons with mental illness were sometimes sent by their families to seek spiritual healing. Some persons suspected of witchcraft were also killed. According to an antiwitchcraft accusation coalition, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000-2,500 adult women and 1,000-1,200 children. One camp had seen its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not have the resources to do so effectively.

The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the north, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, widows are required to undergo certain indigenous rites to mourn or show devotion for the deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.

In August, Second Lady Samira Bawumia launched the Coalition of People Against SGBV and Harmful Practices. UNFPA provided support. Its mission is to pursue high-level advocacy for resources to assist SGBV victims and increase prevention efforts in the country.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas, women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, government contacts indicated that children would not be denied access to education on the basis of documentation. The country’s 2016 automated birth registration system aims at enhancing the ease and reliability of registration. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development were in talks about a proposal to issue birth certificates to children through the age of 15 as part of efforts to curb trafficking. There were no further specifics provided by the government, and it remained unclear how authorities would implement the policy.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. In September 2017 the government began phasing in a program to provide tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, beginning with first-year students. Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than 16 years with or without consent, incest, and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. In July the Ghana Education Service fired four high school teachers in the Ashanti Region for sexually assaulting some students, although four other teachers in the same region were kept on the payroll but transferred to other schools. The DOVVSU’s Central Regional Office reported a 28 percent increase in cases of sexual abuse of girls younger than 16. According to the Ghana Police Service, reports of adults participating in sexual relations with minors rose by almost 26 percent in 2017, with the highest number of cases reported in Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely had sufficient resources, such as transportation and equipment, to effectively respond to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years. The law makes forcing a child to marry punishable by a fine, one year’s imprisonment, or both. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the three northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. Through September the CHRAJ had received 18 cases of early or forced marriage.

The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry launched the first National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26). The framework prioritizes interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address issues of neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society stakeholders, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit also created a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, distributing 6,000 copies throughout the country, and created social media accounts to try to reach wider audiences. In November the country hosted a two-day summit on ending child marriage. First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo delivered opening remarks at the African Union-organized event, which convened gender ministers, civil society organizations, and technical advisors from across the continent.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years, and participating in sexual activities with anyone under this age is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to 5,000 penalty units (60,000 cedis or $13,300), or both.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region kill “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who are suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness about causes and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing.

Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children were often forced to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child prostitution and the school dropout rate. Girls were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation while living on the streets.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to public spaces with “appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability,” but inaccessibility to schools and public buildings continued to be problems. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf. The government lifted a hiring freeze and hired 27 persons with disabilities who were trained teachers to work in the mainstream education sector. As of September there were 150 pending applications from persons with disabilities for a government internship program through the Nation Builders Corps, a government initiative to address graduate unemployment. Overall, however, few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them. The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.

Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for seven consecutive days, and physically assaulted. In his statement about his 2018 visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted, “Persons with disabilities and families with a disabled child face a double burden of poverty.” Officials took few steps to implement a 2012 law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority. The Ministry of Health discontinued data collection on persons with disabilities in 2011. In July 2017 officials from the Mental Health Authority rescued 16 persons with mental disabilities whom they found chained at a prayer camp in Central Region; the individuals were later taken to the Ankaful psychiatric hospital for treatment. Despite these efforts, Human Rights Watch reported in October that it found more than 140 persons with real or perceived mental health conditions detained in unsanitary, congested conditions at a prayer camp. In December the Mental Health Authority released guidelines for traditional and faith-based healers as part of efforts to ensure that practitioners respect the rights of patients with mental illness.

There was public outcry when Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin remarked that the ministerial appointments of persons with disabilities had led to the National Democratic Congress party’s defeat. Bagbin tried to retract his remarks, but organizations such as the Ghana Blind Union expressed disappointment he did not apologize. Ivor Greenstreet, a person living with disabilities who ran in the 2016 presidential elections, called the remarks “unsavory and unacceptable” and “un-befitting …the high office of … Speaker.”

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. In June, following his visit to the country in April, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted that stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons made it difficult for them to find work and become productive members of the community. As of September the CHRAJ had received five reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI persons also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons, although some activists said that police attitudes were slowly changing. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.

While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons during the year, stigma, intimidation, and the attitude of the police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse.

Media reported in August that 400 members of the LGBTI community had registered with the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family “to undergo voluntary counselling and reformation.” Amnesty International earlier in the year criticized authorities for conducting involuntary medical tests on two young men who were allegedly found having sex. According to one survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals.

Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on these issues because of their social and political sensitivity. Speaker of Parliament Mike Oquaye said in May he “would rather resign than subscribe to these delusions,” referring to gay rights legislation. He also said it was unacceptable that foreign governments or groups champion homosexuality and bestiality as human rights. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bagbin said in a radio interview in April, “Homosexuality is worse than [an] atomic bomb” and “there is no way we will accept it in (this) country.” In November 2017 President Akufo-Addo made remarks in an interview interpreted by many citizens as supporting same-sex marriage. After much criticism the Office of the President issued a statement in April in which a bolded line read, “It will NOT be under his Presidency that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Ghana.” President Akufo-Addo later delivered remarks at an evangelical gathering where he assured the audience, “This government has no plans to change the law on same-sex marriage.” Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma surrounding the disease, as well as a fear that men getting tested would immediately be labeled as gay, continued to discourage persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and those who tested positive from seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. As of September the CHRAJ received nine cases of discrimination based on HIV status. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing to citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to respect confidentiality.

A 2016 law penalizes discrimination against a person infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS by a fine of 100 to 500 penalty units (1,200 cedi to 6,000 cedis, or $265-$1,330), imprisonment for 18 months to three years, or both. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV/AIDS and those suspected of having HIV/AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment/work, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV/AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.

As part of World AIDS Day, the Ghana AIDS Commission organized activities across three regions centered around the theme of antistigma and antidiscrimination. In the culminating event to mark World AIDS Day, the minister for sanitation and water resources read a statement on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo encouraging people to get tested.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Chieftaincy disputes, which frequently resulted from lack of a clear chain of succession, competing claims over land and other natural resources, and internal rivalries and feuds, continued to result in deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. According to the West Africa Center for Counterextremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest source of insecurity and instability in the country. Throughout the year disputes continued between Fulani herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. In April, for example, one person died and several houses were burned down when clashes between a farmer and Fulani herdsmen escalated. Similar clashes led to the deaths of two persons who were shot by suspected herdsmen, according to January reports.

In May a long-standing land dispute between the communities of Nkonya and Alavanyo in Volta Region led to violence when an assailant shot and killed one woman and injured another. Citing 85 lives lost since 1983, the Volta Regional Peace Council called for an end to reprisal killings. Earlier in the year, a chieftaincy dispute resulted in five injuries and 10 arrests. Early in the year, the National Peace Council began peace-building training with two towns in the Northern Region.

There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Such vigilantism was often seen as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing the police and judicial sectors.

Guatemala

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In 2016 President Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case remained under investigation by the Public Ministry. In August a local newspaper published an investigative series alleging that former president Otto Perez Molina created an illegal surveillance network in 2012 to listen to calls, mirror mobile phones, and access social media accounts. According to the article, the Ministry of Government dismantled the network in 2015.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. In March the Public Ministry established a 24-hour victim service center to provide medical, psychosocial, and legal support to victims, including restraining orders for their immediate protection. On August 6, in compliance with a finding from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Public Ministry launched the Isabel-Claudina Alert, a national alert system for finding disappeared women. According to the Public Ministry, 428 women were reported missing via the alert through November 26, with 294 women found and 134 alerts remaining active.

The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem. Unknown assailants murdered indigenous Maya women’s rights leader Juana Ramirez in Nebaj on September 21. The PDH reported Ramirez and her organization, the Ixil Women’s Network, had received multiple death threats for supporting female victims of violence.

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained serious problems. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender. There were numerous examples of the PNC’s failure to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence. As of September 8, the PNC reported 48 open investigations against PNC officials for violence or discrimination against women or children.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread. On June 18, former minister of foreign affairs Edgar Gutierrez alleged that President Morales had abused at least one young women. Civil society expressed concern about the allegations, but no formal abuse charges were filed against President Morales. Gutierrez did not make public the evidence he claimed to have.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions. Two women in high-level government positions claimed critics often used gender to undermine their credibility publicly or privately block their ability to do their jobs.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While primary education is compulsory through age 14, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported 8,930 reports of minor abuse of all types, more than triple the number from the same period last year. The ministry reported 82 convictions for child abuse from January through August.

The NGO Mutual Support Group (GAM) reported 417 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide from January through June. While deaths of minors decreased overall, GAM reported an increase in the number of girls killed compared with the same period in the previous year. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youths reported young persons detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities and in the Lev Tahor religious community. UNICEF reported 30 percent of women ages 20 to 24 years were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and the PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. A new Regional Unit against Trafficking in Persons responsible for eight departments in the Western Highlands was launched in April, expanding the government’s investigative capacity against child pornography actors. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, including in privately run orphanages.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, extortion, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities.

Institutionalized Children: As of September more than 500 children and adolescents lived in shelters run by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) continued temporarily to manage three shelters for children and adolescents, each with a capacity for 30 children. A government-mandated transfer of the three SVET shelters to SBS had not taken place by late November.

Overcrowding was common in shelters, and federal funding for orphanages remained limited. Local and international human rights organizations, including Disability Rights International, raised concerns that child abuse was rampant. A July investigative report claimed children with disabilities were consistently mistreated and neglected, including by being locked in cages. The Public Ministry received 22 formal reports of abuse or mistreatment of institutionalized minors during the year. In April adolescents rioted in a shelter, denouncing abuse by SBS employees and improper living conditions.

A March 2017 fire at the Hogar Seguro orphanage resulted in the deaths of 41 girls and severe injuries for 14 others. Authorities charged seven individuals with murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, and abuse against minors in relation to the deaths of the 41 girls. Among those facing charges were former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas, former deputy secretary for protection and shelter Anahi Keller, and former shelter director Santos Torres. Trials continued, but there had been no convictions. On August 22, Congress approved a monthly government pension for the 15 survivors of the fire. The government did not make significant structural changes to the national shelter system, however.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. In July, Congress published the Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons in braille, the first time a law was translated into braille and published.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. Media and human rights organizations reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.

Multiple local NGOs raised concerns over the killings of at least nine indigenous leaders from May through September. According to Public Ministry investigations and NGO assessments, at least three of the leaders killed may have been targeted because of their political involvement and advocacy for indigenous rights. The ministry was in the process of forming a technical working group charged with investigating the killings.

Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. On September 3, the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines to hold International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169-compliant consultations with Xinka populations, upholding the suspension of the operating license of Tahoe Resources’ San Rafael Mine until after conclusion of the consultations. Previously, businesses carried out consultations independently without government oversight. A 2017 ruling allowed a hydroelectric project to continue operations concurrently during consultations led by the energy and mines ministry.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. Government agencies dedicated to supporting indigenous rights lacked political support. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty and malnutrition among most indigenous populations.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that security authorities lacked familiarity with indigenous norms and practices and this engendered misunderstandings. PNC and indigenous leaders in the Western Highlands worked together to establish 37 model police precincts to better serve indigenous-majority communities, reduce violence, expand government services, and establish rule of law. The PNC established substations in three indigenous villages, Salacuim, Teleman, and Tierra Blanca, at the request of communities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not extend specific antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Efforts to pass laws against such discrimination, including a gender identity law, encountered severe opposition among legislators. LGBTI human rights groups stated police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals whom they alleged to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government made minimal efforts to address this discrimination. Sandra Moran, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, was harassed and intimidated based on her sexual orientation. Several attacks targeted journalists for supposed membership in the LGBTI community. LGBTI activists groups reported increased social media attacks against them following President Morales’ August 31 decision to end CICIG’s mandate. PNC officials visited one local LGBTI NGO’s office on September 8, which the group claimed was an intimidation attempt.

According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association reported that from April 20 through November 11, 19 LGBTI persons were killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. In May major media outlets reported that an unknown assailant shot and killed two LGBTI persons inside a home in Guatemala City. The case remained under investigation. The NGO Somos reported 35 violent attacks against LGBTI individuals during the year. LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through “corrective rape,” although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law includes HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, however, despite efforts by the Ministry of Health to address it. Forms of discrimination included being required by some government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving services at some public hospitals and clinics and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was particularly common and affected access to HIV-prevention programs, especially for transgender individuals.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported three persons were killed and 41 injured in public assaults by vigilante groups from January through June.

Honduras

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the law generally prohibits such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of another emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of September CONAPREV registered two alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials.

Ethnic minority rights leaders, international NGOs, and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous persons from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform law or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

In-country Movement: There were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 190,000 IDPs in the country. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission identified 339 cases of forced displacement and 349 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence, and within the newly created Ministry of Human Rights, the government created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Following up on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference that the government hosted in October 2017, the participants, including governments from across the region, agreed to the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions. Under the framework the government pledged to strengthen its capacity to provide services to key population groups, including refugees and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.

The law provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence; however, if a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the only legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of intrafamilial violence.

In cooperation with the UN Development Program, the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices–one in each municipality–that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes various forms of sexual harassment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse. The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 119 children as of July 1.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 with parental consent. According to UNICEF, 8 percent of children were married before age 15 and 34 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, continued to be a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor younger than age 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($41,700 to $104,000). The law prohibits the use of children younger than age 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children lived on the streets. Casa Alianza estimated 15,000 children were homeless and living on the streets, primarily in major cities. Civil society organizations reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized crime, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic illness.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered more than 250 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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, and mental disabilities. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The government has an Office for People with Disabilities located within the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, but its ability to provide services to persons with disabilities was limited.

Indigenous People

In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups included the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas. They had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

Indigenous communities continued to report threats and acts of violence against them and against community and environmental activists. Violence was often rooted in a broader context of conflict over land and natural resources, extensive corruption, lack of transparency and community consultation, other criminal activity, and limited state ability to protect the rights of vulnerable communities.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services. An IACHR report noted that there were insufficient hospital beds and inadequate supplies at the only hospital that services the Gracias a Dios Department, home to the majority of the Miskito community.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law states that sexual orientation and gender identity characteristics merit special protection from discrimination and includes these characteristics in a hate crimes amendment to the penal code. Nevertheless, social discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. LGBTI human rights NGOs alleged that the PMOP and other elements of the security forces harassed and abused LGBTI persons. One international NGO reported that five members of the PMOP in uniform allegedly assaulted and raped a gay man on July 16 in Tegucigalpa. The victim submitted to a medical examination with the Public Ministry’s Forensic Medicine Unit, filed a complaint with the HNP’s Criminal Investigation Unit, and temporarily left the country.

LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. The Association for a Better Life, an NGO that works with LGBTI persons, reported an incident of discrimination at San Felipe Hospital in Tegucigalpa where a physician asserted that the victim’s sexual orientation caused him to contract the human papillomavirus and colon cancer. LGBTI groups continued working with the Violent Crimes Task Force, Ministry of Security, and Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption.

Transgender women were particularly vulnerable to employment and education discrimination; many could find employment only as sex workers, substantially increasing their risk of violence. Transgender individuals noted their inability to update identity documents to reflect their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Access to employment, educational opportunities, and health services continued to be major challenges for persons with HIV/AIDS. The law provides persons with HIV the right to have access to, and remain in, employment and the education system. The law also defines administrative, civil, and criminal liability and penalties for any violation of the law, which includes denial or delay in care for persons with HIV.

Iraq

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Government forces often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

There were numerous reports that government forces and local authorities punished family members of suspected ISIS members and supporters. In some instances local community leaders reportedly threatened to evict these family members from their homes forcibly, bulldoze the homes, and either injure or kill these relatives. International NGOs stated that PMF groups forcibly displaced hundreds of families, destroyed or confiscated some of their homes, forced some parents to leave their children, stole livestock, and beat some of the displaced persons. There were also regular reports of government forces, particularly the PMF but also the Federal Police and local police, refusing to allow IDPs to return to their homes, sometimes despite the IDPs having the necessary security clearances from the government allowing them to do so.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provides for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. In some instances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other instances local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees nor comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls and lack of capacity. Successful efforts by the government to regain control of areas previously held by ISIS allowed many returns to take place. Returnees, however, grappled with the destruction of homes, lack of services and livelihoods, and continued concerns for security due to the prevalence of PMF groups that, in some cases, led to secondary displacement.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions sometimes limited humanitarian access to IDP communities. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS and PMF groups hindered the movement of international staff of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor programs for a portion of the year.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose curfews, cordon off and search areas, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and the PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethnosectarian reasons, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

During the year the ISF decreased the number of checkpoints in many parts of the country.

Humanitarian agencies frequently reported evictions of IDPs from camps and informal displacement sites due to closures and consolidations, which reportedly were often not coordinated with humanitarian actors and which caused some sudden, involuntary displacements. Some political actors promoted camp closures in advance of May parliamentary elections, and authorities reportedly used coercive measures during eviction notifications. IDP camp managers reported government officials did not always give IDPs at closed camps the choice of returning to their areas of origin or displacement to another site. Some families in camps near Baghdad expressed a desire to integrate locally, having found informal employment, but local government authorities reportedly denied requests.

There were numerous reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. In June, HRW reported government forces blocked the return of IDPs with suspected ISIS affiliation in Anbar, even though they had obtained permission from camp security forces and were returning to areas of origin with government transportation. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to stigmatization of IDPs and de facto restrictions on in-country movement. They also expressed concerns of collective punishment against certain communities for their perceived ties to ISIS. For example, according to UNHCR, 150 returnee families faced discrimination in Rutba, Anbar Governorate, based on their perceived ISIS affiliation. Tribal pacts called for punishing false accusations of ISIS affiliation, but they also prohibited legal defense for those affiliated with ISIS. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than affiliation with ISIS. Anbar authorities reportedly made efforts to stop these practices and to work toward post-ISIS reconciliation.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and ethnic and religious minorities, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities and Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). For example, UNHCR reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Governorate. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th Shabak Brigade, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh.

There were reports some PMF groups harassed or threatened civilians fleeing conflict zones or returning to liberated areas and targeted civilians with threats, intimidation, physical violence, abduction, destruction or confiscation of property, and killing.

Syrian refugees continued to have restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

KRG and central government forces closed roads and restricted movement in disputed territories between the central government and the IKR. For example, Peshmerga, ISF, and PMF checkpoints closed many roads from KRG-controlled territory to central government-controlled areas, including the roads from Erbil to Kirkuk, Duhok to Sinjar, Badria to Mosul, al-Qosh to Tal Kayf, Sheikhan to Mosul, and Hawler to Mosul. The closure of these roads hampered the return home of IDPs, slowed economic recovery in areas affected by ISIS, and separated populations from access to schools, medical facilities, and markets. By November all but the Duhok-Sinjar road had been opened for civilian traffic.

The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Humanitarian actors described the sponsorship program as effective in enabling the return of thousands of IDPs. Citizens of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that restrictiveness of entry for IDPs and refugees seeking to return depended upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks reportedly were lengthy on occasion. Entry reportedly was often more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, fewer than 1.9 million persons remained internally displaced in the country as of October, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa Governorates. Almost 4.1 million persons had returned to areas of origin across the country since those areas were liberated from ISIS. In August the IOM reported 12 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, 29 percent lived in IDP camps and settlements, and 48 percent resided in private accommodations, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rental housing.

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors provided support for formal IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources. In December 2017 the United Nations lowered the designation of the country’s humanitarian crisis from a level three to a level two emergency.

In March the government and the United Nations jointly announced the Government’s Plan for Relief, Shelter and Stabilization of Displaced People and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The government’s plan strengthened the provision of legal protection to IDPs, provided relief items and services in camps, and supported safe returns. The HRP outlined the projects and funding required to meet the needs of 3.4 million of the most vulnerable persons in Iraq and included provisions for protection. It also strengthened mechanisms with government authorities to support voluntary, safe, and sustainable returns of IDPs.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal and ethnosectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. The government forced large numbers of IDPs to return to their places of origin to vote in parliamentary elections in May. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements, combined with unresolved problems caused by the uprooting of millions of Iraqis in past decades, strained the capacity of local authorities.

Some government forces, including PMF, reportedly forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethnosectarian reasons. For example, HRW reported that in January government forces, including the PMF, forcibly displaced at least 235 families of people with alleged ties to ISIS and sent them to IDP camps in Kirkuk Governorate. In a report published in February, individuals interviewed by HRW said local police working in the camp confiscated their identity papers and prevented them from leaving.

Government assistance focused on financial grants, but payments were sporadic. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many, but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. The UN Education Cluster reported that out-of-camp IDP populations had the poorest school attendance and highest dropout rates amongst IDPs, refugees, and host communities. The UN Education Cluster also found displaced children in out-of-camp settings lacked civil documents at higher rates than those in camps.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in recently liberated areas. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each governorate. Low oil prices reduced government revenues and further limited funds available for the PDS. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could only redeem PDS rations or other services at their registered place of residence.

Throughout the year UNICEF criticized Ministry of Education decisions in January and April to close some IDP schools in the IKR. In August the IHCHR called on the central government’s Ministry of Heath to resume deliveries of food and medicine to the IDP camps in the IKR.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. Humanitarian agencies reported some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required civil documentation and administrative delays. Many citizens who previously lived in ISIS-controlled areas did not have civil documents, increasing the difficulty of obtaining identification and other personal documents.

Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights, as reported by Amnesty in April. Government officials frequently denied security clearances for displaced households with a perceived ISIS affiliation to return to areas of origin. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced challenges in obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camp. Humanitarian organizations reported that female heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape and sexual assault and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

IKR-based NGOs documented numerous cases of women forced by ISIS to marry fighters who became widows with children, but lacked marriage and birth certificates required to obtain legal documentation for their children. These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Honor killings remained a risk, although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of any perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters, however, and they were frequently abandoned or placed in orphanages, as reported by Yezidi NGOs and media.

Central government authorities and governors took steps to close or consolidate camps, sometimes in an effort to force IDPs to return to their areas of origin. In many cases forced returns from camps resulted in secondary or tertiary displacement, often to out-of-camp settings. Reuters reported that between November 2017 and January ISF forcibly returned between 2,400 and 5,000 IDPs from camps in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate. Aid workers told media that military trucks arrived at camps unannounced and commanders read out lists of people, who had one hour to pack their belongings and go. Reuters reported in January that five camp residents said they were forced to leave by ISF but had to turn back because checkpoints manned by Iranian-aligned PMF units demanded bribes of up to approximately 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($419) to let people through, a sum none could afford.

Humanitarian organizations regularly criticized the government for returning IDPs to unsafe areas. In January, Reuters detailed the experiences of Saleh Ahmed, whose family ISF evicted from a camp in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate, in November 2017 and forced to return to their home town of Betaya. Ahmed reportedly refused because contacts at home told them the area was filled with booby traps left by ISIS and that their houses had been destroyed, but a local commander assured them the area was safe. Upon return an explosive went off, killing Ahmed’s wife, burning his daughter over much of her body, and injuring Ahmed.

IDPs returning to towns and areas in the Ninewa Plain reported that ISIS had destroyed temples, houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. Local authorities reported that, as of September 18, more than 7,400 Christian families from a pre-ISIS population of 19,000 families had returned to the Ninewa Plain, compared with only 200 as of September 2017. Christian IDPs and returnees in villages and towns in the Ninewa Plain under PMF control reported the PMF imposed arbitrary checkpoints and detained civilians without legal authority to do so. West Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, along with the historically Christian town of Batnaya north of Mosul, remained in ruins and almost completely uninhabited. Most Christian IDPs refused to return to the nearby town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Babylon Brigade that occupied it. According to a June report by the Yezidi NGO Nadia’s Initiative, more than 64,000 persons out of a precrisis population of more than 126,000 had returned to the eight collectives in north Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate. Southern Sinjar remained in ruins and almost uninhabited.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Syrians made up the vast majority of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status nor allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside of the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 83 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed in some form of livelihood activity.

Durable Solutions: There was no large-scale resettlement or integration of refugees in central and southern Iraq. Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran generally integrated well in the IKR, although economic hardship reportedly plagued families and prevented some children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. For the 2018/19 school year, the KRG Ministry of Education began teaching all first- and second-grade classes for Syrian refugees outside refugee camps in Sorani Kurdish in Erbil and Sulaimaniya Governorates and Badini Kurdish in Duhok Governorate instead of the dialects of Kurmanji Kurdish spoken by Syrian Kurds, while offering optional instruction in Sorani and Badini to those inside refugee camps.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were more than 47,000 stateless individuals in the country as of August.

Absent a countrywide, consistent plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, some of those children are at risk of statelessness. The government enforced a law requiring any non-Muslim women who bore children of Muslim men to register children as Muslim, no matter the circumstances of the child’s conception or the mother’s religion. The Yezidi community frequently welcomed back Yezidi women but not Muslim children fathered by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community. The ICRC provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding forcibly abandoned children. As a result, some such children are without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 “Bidoun” (stateless) individuals, living as nomads in the desert in or near the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding. Prolonged drought in the south of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani (Dom) population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Baha’i religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but not specifically spousal rape, and permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the victim, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly conducive to sexual exploitation and abuse. Amnesty reported in April that women in IDP camps with alleged ties to ISIS were particularly vulnerable to abuse, including rape by government forces and other IDPs (see sections 1.c. and 2.d.).

Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provided reduced sentences for violence or killing if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.

The government made some progress on implementation of its 2016 joint communique with UNAMI on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-related Sexual Violence in 2016, but human rights organizations reported that the criminal justice system was often unable to provide adequate protection for women.

Likewise, NGOs reported that the government made minimal progress in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security despite an implementation plan launched in 2016. The KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs reported that neither the central government nor the KRG had allocated a budget for implementing this resolution.

Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. In September, UNHCR reported almost 30 suicides, most by Yezidi women, in six IDP camps in Duhok Governorate since the beginning of the year, a number UNHCR believed to be underreported.

While the law does not explicitly prohibit NGOs from running shelters for victims of gender-based crimes, the law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to determine if a shelter may remain open, and the ministry did not do so. As a result, only the Ministry could operate shelters in central government-controlled territory. NGOs that operated unofficial shelters faced legal penalties for operating such shelters without a license (see section 5). NGOs reported that communities often viewed the shelters as brothels and asked the government to close them; on occasion, shelters were subject to attacks. In order to appease community concerns, the ministry regularly closed shelters, only to allow them to reopen in another location later.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority around the country, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support victims. NGOs stated that victims of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Amnesty’s April report details similar concerns from women in IDP camps. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.

In December the BBC visited secret shelters for domestic violence victims in the country, reporting a call for help from one woman who claimed to be imprisoned in Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, by family members and physically abused on a daily basis during a three-year period.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported that these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.

In the IKR one privately operated shelter and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space reportedly was limited, and service delivery reportedly was poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to victims of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

As of September authorities reported more than 3,200 Yezidis, mainly women and children, remained in ISIS captivity, where they were subject to sexual slavery and exploitation, forced marriage, and other abuses.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, and Kirkuk Governorates, and among refugee communities, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.

A 2016 study (the most recent data available) by UNHCR, the KRG, and the international NGO Heartland Alliance, found almost 45 percent of women surveyed had been subject to FGM/C in the IKR, a decrease from previous years. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities. For example, in April media reported on the efforts of activists like Kurdistan Rasul, a victim of FGM/C who encouraged men and women in IKR villages to end the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted honor as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for conviction of murder to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife, girlfriend, or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.

In August media reported that a bridegroom returned his bride to her parents the day after their wedding, complaining that she was not a virgin. A family member then reportedly beat her to death. Media reported that police arrested a male relative, but the motive remained a subject of public debate as of November.

During the year the KRG began prosecuting murders of women, including by honor killings, as homicides, meaning culprits convicted of honor killings were subject to penalties up to and including the death penalty. The KRG Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed that sentences in such cases sometimes reached 20 years. The ministry reported 14 cases of honor killings occurred in the IKR during the year, as of September.

There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Destitute IDP families living in camps reportedly were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation, as detailed in an April Amnesty report. NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them, sometimes pregnant, only months later.

Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of fasliya, whereby family members, including women and children, are traded to settle tribal disputes, remained a problem, particularly in southern governorates.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual relations outside marriage, including sexual harassment. Penalties include fines of up to only 30 dinars (2.5 cents) or imprisonment or both not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no publicly provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR.

In the absence of shelters, authorities often detained or imprisoned sexual harassment victims for their own protection. Some women, without alternatives, became homeless.

Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of, often fake, nude or salacious photos and videos meant to harm their campaigns (see section 3).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by government authorities. Unlike previous years, there were no reports of coerced abortion by ISIS or other armed groups of pregnancies of Yezidi captive women.

Discrimination: The Council of Ministers’ Iraqi Women Empowerment Directorate is the lead government body on women’s issues. Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

For example, in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or two years financial maintenance in some cases; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the child may choose with which parent he or she wishes to live.

All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues, and discrimination toward women on personal status issues varies depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except recognized religious minorities. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document–required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing–without the consent of a male relative.

In March media reported on the work of the Shahrazad Center to fight gender discrimination. One female journalist, Israa Tariq, went to the center for legal assistance after the television station she worked for, al-Nahar, did not pay her salary for three months. Another woman, “Houda,” went to the center for legal assistance after her husband left her to raise their two children without paying legally required child support.

NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.

Although the KRG provided some additional protections to women, in most respects, KRG law mirrors federal law, and women faced discrimination. Beginning in May, public prosecutors in Kurdistan began accepting the testimony of women in court on an equal basis with that of men. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband, beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law, and provides a divorced wife up to five years alimony beyond childcare.

The KRG maintained a High Council of Women’s Affairs and a Women’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law, and prevent and respond to discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children. Although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior, this was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported a widespread problem of children born to members of ISIS or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling–and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided without cost to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a challenge, particularly in rural and insecure areas. Recent, reliable statistics on enrollment, attendance, or completion were not available.

In January, UNICEF reported that children comprised almost one-half of Iraqis displaced by conflict. Displacement limited access to education; at least 70 percent of displaced children missed a year of school. In February, UNICEF reported that one-half of all schools in Iraq required repairs following the territorial defeat of ISIS and that more than three million children have had their education interrupted.

Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but recent, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as age 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country.

In July the Ledia Organization, a local NGO, released a report finding a significant increase in early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, as many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households to prevent forced marriages to ISIS fighters. Others gave their daughters as child brides to ISIS or other armed groups as a means to ensure their safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.

In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit children as young as age 16 to marry under the same conditions applied in the rest of the country. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but does not automatically, void forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Child prostitution was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. Penalties for commercial exploitation of children range from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

Child Soldiers: Certain PMF units, including AAH, HHN, and KH, reportedly recruited and used child soldiers, despite government prohibition. The PKK HPG and YBS Yezidi militias also reportedly continued to recruit and use child soldiers. ISIS was known to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children. Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs were children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were approximately 430 Jewish families in the IKR. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in the country during the year.

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 constitution states the government, through law and regulations, guarantees the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although the Council of Ministers issued a decree in 2016 ordering access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation limited access. Local NGOs reported many children with disabilities dropped out of public school due to insufficient physical access to school buildings, a lack of appropriate learning materials in schools, and a shortage of teachers qualified to work with children with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The minister of labor and social affairs leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any Iraqi citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs leads a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry. In July a group of persons with disabilities burnt their wheelchairs in front of the IKP office in Sulaimaniya in protest, alleging that the KRG commission arbitrarily denied benefits to those who qualified.

There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and observers projected that the quota would not be met by the end of the year (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry maintained loans programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabaks, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’i, Kaka’i, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani (Dom) community, as well as an estimated 500,000 citizens of African descent who reside primarily in Basrah and adjoining governorates. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

The law did not permit some religious groups, including Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i, to register under their professed religions, which, although recognized in the IKR, remain unrecognized and illegal under Iraqi law. The law forbids Muslims to convert to another religion (see sections 2.d. and section 6, Children).

Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, and other militias targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as did remaining active ISIS fighters.

For example, following the return of central government control in Kirkuk in October 2017, Kurds, Turkmen, Kaka’i, Christians, and other minorities faced discrimination, displacement, and in some cases, violence from government forces, particularly Iran-aligned PMF groups. Media outlets carried numerous reports of PMF groups invading, looting, and burning the houses of Kurds, Sunni Turkmen, Sunni Arabs, and other ethnic minorities in Kirkuk Governorate. Kurds faced similar violence in Khanaqin, a majority Kurdish city in Diyala Governorate that also passed from KRG to central government control in October 2017. Discrimination continued to stoke ethnosectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year. In August, four Kurds, including a Peshmerga, were beheaded by unknown attackers. The Kaka’i community in Daquq, Kirkuk Governorate, continued to suffer threats, attacks, and assassinations, which Kaka’i civil society groups claimed accelerated under PMF occupation of the area.

Many persons of African descent, some stateless, lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. They were not represented in politics, and members held no senior government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war.

There were reports of KRG authorities discriminating against minorities, including Turkmen, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabaks, and Christians, in the disputed territories. For example, courts rarely upheld Christians’ legal complaints against Kurds regarding land and property disputes.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults per se, authorities used public indecency or prostitution charges to prosecute such conduct. Authorities used the same charges to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with anyone other than their spouse. The constitution and law do not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation.

Despite repeated threats and violence targeting LGBTI individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

LGBTI persons often faced abuse and violence from government and nongovernmental actors that the government did not effectively investigate. In June LGBTI advocacy NGO IraQueer reported 96 percent of surveyed LGBTI individuals experienced threats or violence between 2015 and June. IraQueer reported in June that more than 220 LGBTI individuals were killed in 2017 and stated that the government had not taken steps to prosecute those responsible. In October a video circulated on social media showing a 14-year-old boy dying after being stabbed in an apparent homophobic attack in central Baghdad. In the video the attackers taunted the victim, asking who his boyfriend was and telling him his guts were coming out of his body. In addition to targeted violence, LGBTI persons remained at risk for honor crimes. For example, in July media reported that a father had killed his 12-year-old son because he was playing with his friends in Hamza al-Sharqi, al-Qadisiyah Governorate, but some commentators claimed he was killed for same-sex sexual conduct with his friends.

Local contacts reported that certain PMF groups, including specifically AAH, drafted LGBTI “kill lists” and executed men perceived as gay, bisexual, or transgender, as did ISIS when it still retained territorial control.

LGBTI individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination in the IKR. In June IraQueer reported the experience of Rawa, a 26-year-old gay man from Duhok Governorate who said he was unable to keep his job because of sexual harassment and violence. Rawa told IraQueer, “I was raped by my boss when I was working as a barista. He then threatened that he would report me to the police if I said anything. I had no choice but to escape.” An IKR-based human rights NGO director reported that otherwise-dedicated members of his staff refused to advocate for LGBTI human rights based on their misperception that LGBTI persons are mentally ill.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

Media reported criminal networks and some PMF groups seized Christian properties in Baghdad, as well as areas of Anbar, Babil, Basrah, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Wasit Governorates, with relative impunity, despite pledges by the Prime Minister’s Office to open investigations into the seizures. Yezidis likewise complained about property seizures, intimidation, threats, abuses, and discrimination by certain Iran-aligned PMF groups operating in and around Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate.

Jamaica

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the law gives security personnel broad powers of search and seizure. The law allows warrantless searches of a person, vehicle, ship, or boat if a police officer has good reason to be suspicious. Police on occasion were accused of conducting searches without warrants.

In the ZOSOs the government began taking biometrics from persons it temporarily detained. Security forces were able to apprehend wide swaths of the male population in ZOSOs under broad arrest authority. NGOs contended that ZOSOs became a subterfuge for the government to capture biometric data indiscriminately from the public without consent. Reports estimated that as many as 6,000 persons were affected.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles each potential asylum seeker administratively on an individual basis. The government can grant a form of limited status to those with citizenship in a commonwealth country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of women is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The legal definition of rape is forced penile penetration of the vagina, so the law only considers rape of women. There are legal imbalances in the application of the law that led to unequal protection of citizens.

Married women do not have the same rights and protection as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria has been met: the act occurs after legal separation or court proceedings to dissolve the marriage; the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or the husband knows he suffers from a sexually transmitted disease. Legally, marriage implies sexual consent between husband and wife at all times.

Additionally, because the legal qualification for rape is forced penile penetration of the vagina, a criminal who commits sexual assault through anal penetration can be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This distinction created wide discrepancies between cases that had the same element of sexual assault at their core.

According to estimates from the Ministry of National Security’s Research Evaluation Unit, there were 442 rape cases in 2017, which corresponded to approximately a 16 percent reduction from the previous year. Advocacy groups, however, contended that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings.

Some cases occurred in gated, all-inclusive resorts on the northern coast. In each case reports noted a lack of action by the JCF, and no one was charged. Observers suspected that not all cases were reported, since foreign tourists could not stay in the country long enough to contend with a lengthy legal process.

The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support, crisis intervention, legal advocacy, and technical services. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the island, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. Furthermore, the VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs with capabilities such as counseling resiliency training, and shelters. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency provided similar services for children. Shelter facilities for women and children were insufficient and less available outside the capital area. Police officers and first responders had limited training to understand which services were available.

Sexual Harassment: No legislation addresses sexual harassment and no legal remedy exists for victims.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, women suffered from discrimination in the workplace and often earned less than men. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

Children

Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Persons outside the country born to or adopted by one or more Jamaican parents, as well as those married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law bans child abuse in all forms. Corporal punishment is illegal; however, it was practiced informally in the home, schools, and children’s correctional facilities, as well as when a child was under state care. The penalty is a potential fine of 250,000 JMD ($1,900) or a prison sentence with hard labor for a period not to exceed three months.

Legislation also criminalizes sexual relations by an adult with a child–male or female–under the age of 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse to make a report to the registry office, with a penalty of up to 500,000 JMD ($3,800) and six months’ imprisonment, or both, for failure to do so.

With regard to sexual assault, children have fewer legal protections than adults. The legal definition of rape is penile penetration of the vagina. Therefore, a criminal who commits anal rape of a child is punishable by only 10 years in prison. Similar to the situation for women, the distinction created wide discrepancies between cases that had the same element of sexual assault at their core. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults.

Informal corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Estimates from the NGO Jamaicans for Justice showed that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number had witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace. Nonetheless, the NGO noted that overall reported instances of child abuse trended slightly downward during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but children may marry at 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and applies to the protection, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 JMD ($3,800). Reports continued of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, it does not mandate accessibility standards. Persons with disabilities continued to encounter discrimination in employment and access to schools, usually due to the state of the infrastructure, which limited access to buildings and provided few accessible facilities.

There were limitations in access to education at the primary school level, due to insufficient resources allocated for persons with disabilities. There was also a lack of suitably trained faculty to care for and instruct students with disabilities, although the constitution provides for the right to primary education for all children. Health care reportedly was universally available but at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security has responsibility for the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities. The council distributes economic empowerment grants of up to 150,000 JMD ($1,140) to persons with disabilities to help them develop small businesses and 250,000 JMD ($1,900) per person for the purchase of assistive aids.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations and anal sex between men. Physical intimacy between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison, and anal sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation.

The government enforced the portion of the law that criminalizes anal sex, or “buggery,” only in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. Officials did not prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act, committed through penile anal penetration, of a woman, child, or man, would be punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights acknowledged that the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTI persons.

During the year major political leaders, including the prime minister and two of his senior ministers, stated they would have “no problem” for a gay person to serve in their cabinet. The JCF also published official policy guidance stipulating that the police force would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Nonetheless, the country was generally very homophobic with a culture of outward hostility toward LGBTI individuals.

The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that through June it received 17 reports of instances of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity against LGBTI individuals, compared with 15 reports in the previous year. It was difficult to obtain exact statistics, as observers believed these types of human rights violations were underreported.

Government agencies were often involved in acts of discrimination. In one instance a transgender woman reported being stopped by security officials at the capital’s international airport. Customs agents loudly and confrontationally questioned her gender. Security officers (two female and one male) then summoned her to a search area where they observed as she stripped naked. The officers made her hold various poses that exposed her genitals from different angles. The woman had been traveling to the country as an executive director of an NGO that focuses on transgender issues in the Caribbean.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society, international organizations, and government officials cited stigma and discrimination as a factor contributing to low HIV-treatment coverage. This especially affected subpopulations such as LGBTI and female sex workers, in which the HIV epidemic was more concentrated.

The government collaborated with the Global Fund to address stigma and discrimination. Measures included training for health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitization of lawmakers and law enforcement agents; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; legal literacy; legal services; and monitoring and reforming laws, regulations, and policies relating to HIV.

The law prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace and provides some legal recourse to persons with HIV who experienced discrimination. In rural areas there was less knowledge of what government services and programming were available.

Jordan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance without court orders. While no examples were given to justify these beliefs, they widely believed the government employed an informer system within political movements and human rights organizations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.

The United Nations reported that the government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The country’s land border with Syria has been closed to new refugee arrivals since June 2016. During the June southwest offensive in Syria, the government maintained a closed border policy, preventing new asylum seekers from entering the country. Some of these newly displaced persons, however, received emergency humanitarian assistance from inside the Free Trade Zone between Jordan and Syria. There was no legal framework for refugees residing in the Jordanian refugee camps to leave permanently to settle in host communities for family reunification; long-term medical treatment was unavailable in the camps.

The government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees. The Urban Verification Exercise for refugees has steadily expanded, and the government increased access to birth and marriage certificates by simplifying and reducing the costs. While on several occasions, the government allowed the regularization of certain refugees who left the camps to settle in host communities, there was generally no option for camp residents to move permanently into rural and urban areas and only limited options to move in and out of camps.

Conversely, reports of forced relocations to Azraq camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5 (V5), increased as an alternative to deportation, for offenses by Syrian refugees that encompassed “irregular status” (for example, no updated registration, working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of June, Azraq camp hosted over 36,000 individuals, including over 9,000 adults and children, in the fenced-off area V5. Residents of V5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, required a security escort. The screening process allowing V5 residents to relocate to the larger camp was irregular and very slow. Reportedly, since entering Jordan from Syria, two thirds of the residents have remained in V5 for more than two years. It remained unclear whether individuals in Azraq V5 will be permitted to move to less restrictive, unfenced areas in the camp or to host communities.

Authorities required all residents of King Abdullah Park refugee camp, to obtain a leave permit, which was not systematically granted, to visit their relatives in Jordan or for other purposes. Authorities made some exceptions for the sick and elderly to allow twice-monthly visits. Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) accounted for 354 of the 509 refugees in the camp as of June, including “PRS Families” (families including at least one family member, which subjected them to specific treatment and limitation related to PRS).

Foreign Travel: Activists alleged authorities imposed travel bans against citizens.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were few reports of the government forcibly returning Syrian refugees and PRS, including women, children, war-injured persons, and persons with disabilities, to Syria. International organizations continued to report that the government forcibly returned to Syria some refugees residing in the country’s host communities and camps for alleged security concerns and relocated others to various locations including Azraq camp V5. Some relocated individuals were held pending security vetting to ensure they did not pose a security risk. There was no established time period for security vetting.

Some reasons for returns and relocations were allegations of communicating with and sending money to relatives who are in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and other activities that could create security concerns.

From October 2017 through July 2018, the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of three cases of refoulement of 15 PRS. The vulnerability of PRS to deportation increased their risk of other abuses. For those who entered the country irregularly (for example, without required documentation, or using Syrian identity documents), refoulement was a constant risk, and access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–was highly complex. UNRWA reported that such activities could result in forced return to Syria, as well as detention and denaturalization. These vulnerabilities put refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014, authorities required all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The government declared it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. International organizations reported that between 45,000 and 50,000 internally displaced Syrians remained at the northeast desert Jordan-Syria border throughout the year. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.

Employment: In 2016, the government announced it would allow Syrian refugees access to the formal labor market and committed to providing 200,000 job opportunities for Syrians in the coming years. The Ministry of Labor issued more than 120,000 work permits to Syrians. More than 36,000 Syrian refugees received new or renewed work permits in 2018. The government took several steps to expand and facilitate the issuance of work permits, including waiving fees. The government also revised work permit practices to allow Syrian workers in the agricultural and construction sectors to switch employers under the supervision of agricultural cooperatives and a trade union, rather than requiring new work permits for each job transfer.

There continued to be delays in implementing procedures at Ministry of Labor offices in governorates outside Amman. There remained uncertainty among the refugee population and employers regarding how to apply for the work permits. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. A government-commissioned study on migrant workers, published in 2016, estimated that 26 percent of Syrian refugees were economically active in the labor market. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and, due to the difficulties and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.

The United Nations reported that in general Syrian refugees working informally were no longer deported or sent to the refugee camps when caught working without authorization. During the year, the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some longstanding Palestinian refugees with Jordanian citizenship were integrated into the workforce. Almost 160,000 Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza, however, were not eligible for Jordanian citizenship, and authorities restricted their access to public services and employment. Additionally, according to UNRWA, authorities did not allow PRS to work, and a significant percentage remained without Jordanian documents.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. From 2014 until March, authorities charged Syrian refugees for health care at the same rates as uninsured Jordanians, who pay a nominal fee for most basic health services. Iraqi and other refugees must pay the foreigner’s rate for health care. As of March authorities required Syrian refugees to pay 80 percent of the foreign resident rate for all medical costs.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the academic year 2017-18, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 73,000 Syrians were still without formal or informal education. There were reports that some Syrian refugee children may not enroll in school if they do not have Ministry of Interior cards. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded and operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools in an action designed to allow an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education as well as 126,000 refugee students enrolled in 2016-17.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program that reached over 4,000 students between the ages of nine and 12 since 2016 and enrolled them at catch-up centers across the country in 2017-18. Children 13 years old and above, who were not eligible to enroll in formal education, could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education.

Some Syrian children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

Palestinian refugees from Gaza who entered the country following the 1967 war were not entitled to services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Earlier refugees from Gaza, who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948, were eligible to receive UNRWA services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father and rely on a special identification card to enroll in school, access services, and obtain a driver’s license. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education has formally allowed all children, regardless of nationality or status, to enroll in formal education, although in practice lacking proper paperwork did sometimes lead to delays or issues enrolling children in school. In guidelines announced by the government in 2014, if children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and have employment priority over other foreigners. This ruling affects tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of thousands of children, in which the father lacked Jordanian citizenship. An estimated 55,000 of these fathers were Palestinians. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the 2014 law, applicants must prove the maternal relationship, that the Jordanian mother has been resident in the country for five years, and that the children currently reside in the country. In 2016, the Civil Status Bureau began issuing identification cards to replace the initial certificates. In September, the cabinet removed the five-year residency requirement for Jordanian mothers. By law, the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Syrian refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled, or confiscated by government authorities when the refugees entered the country. A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped refugees register births.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman 15 years old or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. Parliament passed a revised domestic violence law in 2017 that clarified procedures for reporting and case management and specified that these complaints must receive expedited processing. The law made prosecution mandatory for felony offenses. Nonfelony offenses are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law now provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases with consent of the victim. NGOs noted that the law also now clarifies procedures for handling domestic violence, but the definition of domestic violence remains unclear.

In 2017 parliament abolished an article of the penal code that exonerated rapists who married their victims and amended another article prohibiting the “fit of fury” excuse for “honor crimes.” Parliament also amended the law to eliminate mitigated sentencing for honor crimes cases when the family would ordinarily drop charges. NGOs reported the number of women under protective detention decreased.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape, and violence against women was widespread. In January the Court of Cassation ruled that they would not allow reprosecution of a man who raped a woman in 2016 and married her to avoid criminal charges, despite the elimination of the exonerating clause in 2017.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. As of August the FPD treated and investigated over 5,100 cases of domestic violence, including almost 1,300 cases of rape or sexual assault against women. The FPD actively investigated cases, but gave preference to mediation, with almost 2,500 of the cases referred to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed religious authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure, as well as fears of violence such as honor killings, of which eight were reported in 2017, few women sought legal remedies.

The FPD continued to operate a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via the internet and email. According to the Ministry of Social Development, the government maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In November 2017 the Judicial Council assigned 107 judges, including 14 women, to specialize in handling domestic violence cases. In application of the 2017 domestic violence protection law, specialized judges were now expediting and classifying these cases; misdemeanor cases take roughly three months to resolve.

On July 30, the Ministry of Social Development officially opened Dar Aminah, a shelter for women at risk of violence and honor crimes. According to the minister and partnering NGO, 26 women, who were placed under “protective detention” in detention centers, would move to the shelter. As of October authorities had transferred 10 women to the shelter; 16 awaited transfer from Jweidah Prison.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: During 2017 of the 42 women killed in the country through August, local media identified eight as “honor crimes.” Civil society organizations stated, however, many such crimes went unreported.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential honor killing during the year, although NGOs noted that many cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that if a woman marries her rapist, according to customary belief, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” a belief that persisted despite the 2017 amendment to the legal code.

As of August governors had begun referring potential victims of honor crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter Dar Aminah instead of involuntary protective custody in the Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers in the Jweideh and the Umm al-Lulu detention facilities.

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years of hard labor. Parliament amended laws to set penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment, but did not define or substantively strengthen protections against sexual harassment. The government did not enforce this law. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. In September the organizers of an outdoor festival were arrested and the venue, Seven Hills, was closed after allegations of sexual harassment spread on social media. The ensuing investigation led to criminal charges for the unauthorized sale of alcohol. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign migrant workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court.

No specialized government office or designated official handles discrimination claims. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a government-supported NGO, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

Under sharia, as applied in the country, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special courts for each Christian denomination adjudicate marriage and divorce, but for inheritance, sharia rules apply by default.

The law allows fathers to prevent their children under the age of 18 from leaving the country through a court order that is not available to mothers. Authorities did not stop fathers from exiting the country with their children when the mother objected. Divorced mothers may put injunctions on their former spouses to prevent them from leaving the country with their children.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Civil servants now follow the social security law, which contains provisions for family members to inherit the pension payments of deceased male and female civil servants. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants under the Civil Service Bureau now permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if they are not Jordanians. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

Parliament’s 2017 amendments of the penal code granted mothers permission to give consent for surgeries on their minor children without consent of their father.

Children

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children – including children of unmarried women, orphans, or certain interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion – illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children unique national identification numbers, making it difficult for them to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. Authorities removed children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency face obstacles to enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). See section 2.d. for information on access to education for Syrian refugees.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child under the age of 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases, authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and ultimately death.

In January the public prosecutor detained a woman for abuse related to the death of her three-year-old daughter. Forensic reports on her daughter concluded widespread traces of torture and abuse and burns on 25 percent of her body. The case remained pending with the woman being held in Jweideh detention center.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as 15 years old may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between 15 and 18 years old would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty for the commercial exploitation of children of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons under the age of 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Given the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: NGOs reported physical and sexual abuses occurred in government institutions. Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The community monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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 Parent Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews without government response. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but it was taught in some private school curriculums.

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 generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to formulate and implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. During the year, the GCHR became the deputy president of the Higher Council for Disabilities to attempt better to integrate rights for persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs universally reported that persons with disabilities faced problems in obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

In June 2017 parliament amended the law on the rights of persons with disabilities, strengthening protections for workers with disabilities and criminalizing neglect of persons with disabilities. The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of their disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities.

Activists noted the law lacked implementing regulations and funding, and authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities exempted from the quota employers who stated the nature of the work was not suitable for persons with disabilities. As part of the law, the government announced in 2017 a 10-year plan for full accessibility and inclusivity by 2027. In June 2018 the Ministry of Social Development announced its intention to transfer 500 persons with intellectual disabilities out from institutions into family or community environments. According to the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as of November 1,874 persons with disabilities remained institutionalized.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station.

The law tasks the Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting of existing buildings to comply with building codes. The vast majority of private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections was not accessible.

The PSD national 9-1-1 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech impediments by using sign language over a video call. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices where a representative who can communicate via sign language was not present.

An NCHR report from September noted that school classrooms were not fully accessible, and there were no qualified teachers for children with disabilities. Families of children with disabilities reported that teachers and principals often refused to include children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Human rights activists and media reported on cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions.

There was no information regarding abuses against those with disabilities and whether or not authorities took official action against those committing such abuses.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Four groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including PRS, covered in section 2.d., many of whom faced some discrimination. Those who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship, as did those who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Those still holding residency in the West Bank after 1967 were no longer eligible to claim full citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees who fled Gaza after 1967 were not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These persons had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA services. Those who were able to enter the country, despite many being turned away at the border, had access to UNRWA services.

Palestinians were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships. They were well represented in the private sector.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Authorities can arrest LGBTI individuals for allegedly violating public order or public decency, which are crimes under the penal code. While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not illegal, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons were targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little or no legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Some LGBTI individuals reported reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would either provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. LGBTI community leaders reported that most LGBTI individuals were closeted and feared disclosure of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. The Media Commission banned books containing LGBTI content.

During the year, there were reports of individuals who left the country due to fear that their families would kill them because of their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was a largely taboo subject. Lack of public awareness remained a problem, because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized HIV/AIDS-positive individuals, and they largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV/AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who tested HIV-positive.

Kazakhstan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit violations of privacy, but the government at times infringed on these rights.

The law provides prosecutors with extensive authority to limit citizens’ constitutional rights. The KNB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, may infringe on the secrecy of private communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Human rights activists reported incidents of alleged surveillance, including KNB officers visiting activists and their families’ homes for “unofficial” conversations regarding suspect activities, wiretapping and recording of telephone conversations, and videos of private meetings posted on social media.

Courts may hear an appeal of a prosecutor’s decision but may not issue an immediate injunction to cease an infringement. The law allows wiretapping in medium, urgent, and grave cases.

Government opponents, human rights defenders, and their family members continued to report the government occasionally monitored their movements.

In July 2017 the prime minister transferred the State Technical Service for centralized management of telecommunication networks and for monitoring of information systems from the Ministry of Information and Communication to the KNB.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights activists noted numerous violations of labor migrants’ rights, particularly those of unregulated migrants. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted a growing number of migrants who were banned re-entry to Russia and chose to stay in Kazakhstan. The government does not have a mechanism for integration of migrants, with the exception of ethnic Kazakh repatriates (oralman). Labor migrants from neighboring Central Asian countries are often low-skilled and seek manual labor. They were exposed to dangerous work and often faced abusive practices. The migrants are in vulnerable positions because of their unregulated legal status; the laborers do not know their rights, national labor and migration legislation, local culture, or the language.

Among major violations of these migrants’ rights, activists mentioned the lack of employment contracts, poor working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, nonpayment or delayed payment of salaries, and lack of adequate housing. Migrant workers faced the risk of falling victim to human trafficking and forced labor, and the International Labor Organization indicated migrants had very limited or no access to the justice system, social support, or basic health services. In its 2018 report the International Federation for Human Rights stated violations of labor migrants’ rights additionally included corruption of police forces’ migration officers and in other government offices. The report noted increased discrimination against migrants in society, exacerbated by their lack of information, education, and language difficulties.

In-country Movement: The government required foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with migration police. Foreigners entering the country had to register at certain border posts or airports where they entered. Some foreigners experienced problems traveling in regions outside their registration area. The government’s Concept on Improving Migration Policyreport covers internal migration, repatriation of ethnic Kazakh returnees (oralman), and external labor migration. In 2017 the government amended the rules for migrants entering the country so that migrants from Eurasian Economic Union countries may stay up to 90 days. There is a registration exemption for families of legal migrant workers for a 30-day period after the worker starts employment. The government has broad authority to deport those who violate the regulations.

Since 2011 the government has not reported the number of foreigners deported for gross violation of visitor rules. Individuals facing deportation may request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements they would not leave their city of residence.

Authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas adjoining China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur.

Foreign Travel: The government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, yet there were certain instances in which the government could deny exit from the country, including in the case of travelers subject to pending criminal or civil proceedings or having unfulfilled prison sentences, unpaid taxes, fines, alimony or utility bills, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who present false documentation during the exit process could be denied the right to exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military personnel. The law requires persons who had access to state secrets to obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.

Exile: The law does not prohibit forced exile if authorized by an appropriate government agency or through a court ruling.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees from countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. There are approximately 600 recognized refugees in the country, and the government recognized six persons as refugees during the first nine months of the year. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably during the year compared with prior years.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR legally may appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation. The law and several implementing regulations and bylaws regulate the granting of asylum and refugee status.

The Refugee Status Determination outlines procedures and access to government services, including the right to be legally registered and issued official documents. The Department of Migration Police in the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts status determination procedures. Any individual seeking asylum in the country has access to the asylum procedure. According to UNHCR, the refugee system suffers from two major issues. First, access to the territory of Kazakhstan is limited. A person who crosses the border illegally may be prosecuted in criminal court, and may be viewed as a person with criminal potential. Second, access to asylum procedures falls short of the international standard. Authorities remain reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lack valid identity documents, citing security concerns.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and authorities in other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The government does not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial or medical assistance. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work, with the exception of engaging in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights.

Access to Basic Services: All refugees recognized by the government receive a refugee certificate that allows them to stay in the country legally. The majority of refugees have been residing in the country for many years. Their status as “temporarily residing aliens” hinders their access to the full range of rights stipulated in the 1951 convention and the law. Refugee status lasts for one year and is subject to annual renewal. This year, it became possible for refugees to apply for permanent residency provided that they have a valid passport. Some refugees have already received permanent residency this year, and they are to be eligible to become Kazakhstani citizens after five years. The law also lacks provisions on treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees have access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but have no access to social benefits or allowances.

UNHCR reported cordial relations with the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government usually allowed UNHCR access to detained foreigners to provide for proper treatment and fair determination of status.

The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations.

Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other. UNHCR reported three Uighurs received refugee status during the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and law provide avenues to deal with those considered stateless, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. As of September approximately 6,900 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless. The majority of individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

In July 2017 the president signed a law that allows the government to deprive Kazakhstani citizenship to individuals convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR, no one has yet been deprived of citizenship under this law.

According to UNHCR the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons is documented and considered as having permanent residency, which is granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals. A legal procedure exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years. In summary the law does not provide a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons. Existing legislation prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, which hindered their access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

Persons rejected or whose status of stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.

Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, with the exception of government positions. They may face challenges when concluding labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.

UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor migration, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for conviction of rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases.

Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The law sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for any assault. The law also permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live, allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence, and replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if paying fines was hurting victims as well as perpetrators.

NGOs estimated that on average 12 women each day were subjected to domestic violence and more than 400 women died annually as a result of violence sustained from their spouses. Due in part to social stigma, research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that a majority of victims of partner abuse never told anyone of their abuse. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life-threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile.

On January 22, the Karatau District Court in Shymkent sentenced Khairulla Narmetov to 3.5 years in jail for injuring his wife Umida. In November 2017 he had attacked her with a knife and injured her severely. After a difficult six-hour surgery, doctors managed to save her life. During the court trial, Umida forgave her husband “for the sake of the children,” she said.

The government opened domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the NGO Union of Crisis Centers, there were 28 crisis centers, which provided reliable services to victims of domestic violence. Of these crisis centers, approximately a dozen have shelters.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of eight to 10 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to sort out their situation themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very bureaucratic process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness carries criminal liability in terms of sexual assault. In no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions.

According to studies conducted by NGOs, half of all working women (53 percent) were subject to sexual advances from male supervisors and 14 percent received advances from colleagues. None of those women reached out to police with complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.

In March a group of NGOs and media activists set up Korgau123, an organization to support victims of harassment, and launched a hotline.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained a serious problem. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and other property rights.

Children

In 2016 the president issued a decree to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Child Rights (Children’s Ombudsman) to improve the national system of child rights protection.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper paperwork, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers were denied birth certificates.

Child Abuse: School violence was a problem, and experts estimated two of three schoolchildren suffered or witnessed violence. Violence and abuse were particularly serious in boarding schools and orphanages. An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 children suffered from either psychological or physical abuse by their parents. According to UNICEF, 75 percent of the public supported the use of violent methods of disciplining children, and children faced violence at home, schools, children’s group homes, and on the street. Humanium, an international child rights NGO, reported that mistreatment was becoming rarer, but still occurred regularly in boarding schools, foster homes, and prisons and detention centers. Children who were victims of such violence did not have easy access to adequate complaint mechanisms.

There were reports of selling newborn babies.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but it may be reduced to 16 in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement. According to the United Nations Population Fund about 3,000 early and forced marriages occurred annually. Many couples first married in mosques and then registered officially when the bride reached the legal age. The government did not take any action to address the issue.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex, but it provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse. The Children’s Ombudsman noted that the number of sexual violence incidents reported increased 38 percent compared with the previous year.

The law criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country retains administrative penalties for child pornography. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors receive a lifetime ban on working with children.

Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted that the number of street children, mainly in large cities, was high. According to the Children’s Ombudsman, the number of street children was increasing. The Children’s Rights Protection Committee reports that 1,422 street children, 233 orphans, 21 delinquent children and 12 children from problematic families were referred to Centers for Delinquent Children in the first quarter of the year. Of the total, 1,371 were returned to their families. The remaining children were sent to orphanages (97), foster families (33), or correctional boarding schools (22).

Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children, were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, the number of orphans who lived in orphanages decreased from approximately 7,000 in 2016 to 6,223 in 2017. The rest of the 27,274 orphan children were in foster or other home care.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Leaders of the Jewish community estimated that the country’s Jewish population was approximately 10,000. They reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination existed. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was lacking.

The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, and the government enacted high-level enforcement measures to enhance economic opportunities as part of the president’s strategy 2050; nevertheless, there were reports persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment. The government identified the two biggest barriers facing persons with disabilities as poor infrastructure and lack of access to education, while persons with disabilities expressed difficulty accessing public transportation.

Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities: some airlines refused to sell tickets to persons with disabilities seeking to travel alone and insisted that they should be escorted by assistants; doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children; and treatment of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.

The government did not legally restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and arranged home voting for individuals who could not travel to accessible polling places.

There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers believed this led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed young persons under the age of 18 with the permission of their families. According to an NPM report, most of the hospitals required extensive maintenance. Other problems observed included shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and air.

Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions and signs of possible torture of patients, but any institutions holding children, including orphanages, were not on the list of institutions NPM members may visit.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Kazakh is the official state language, although Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication. The law requires presidential candidates to be fluent in Kazakh. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, but all prospective civil servants are required to pass a Kazakh language exam.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

According to the constitution, no one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin; occupational, social, or property status; sex; race; nationality; language; religion or belief; place of residence; or any other circumstances. The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity.

Although gender reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care.

There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence. Although there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were reports of such actions. According to an NGO survey within the LGBTI community, 48 percent of respondents experienced violence or hate because of their sexual orientation, and 56 percent responded they knew someone who suffered from violence. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults.

NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially with regard to employment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, but stigma resulted in societal discrimination that continued to affect access to information, services, treatment, and care. The National Center for AIDS provides free diagnosis and treatment to all citizens.

Kenya

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, except “to promote public benefit,” but authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The law permits police to enter a home without a search warrant if the time required to obtain a warrant would prejudice an investigation. Although security officers generally obtained search warrants, they occasionally conducted searches without warrants in the course of large-scale security sweeps to apprehend suspected criminals or to seize property believed stolen. For example, in August 2017, according to multiple press and NGO reports, police conducted house-to-house operations in Kisumu County in connection with protests in the wake of the August 2017 election. In one of the homes, police allegedly beat a husband, wife, and their six-month-old daughter (known as “Baby Pendo”). KNCHR confirmed the infant died of her injuries in September 2017. In November 2017 IPOA completed its investigation into the infant’s death and referred the case to the ODPP for potential prosecution. ODPP declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence identifying the culpable officers. IPOA then referred the case to a magistrate for a public inquest, which met several times, most recently on July 11.

Human rights organizations reported police officers raided homes in informal settlements in Nairobi and communities in the coast region in search of suspected terrorists and weapons. The organizations documented numerous cases in which plainclothes police officers searched residences without a warrant and household goods were confiscated when residents were unable to provide receipts of purchase on demand.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, defilement, sexual violence within marriage, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law criminalizes abuses that include early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” and sexual violence within marriage. The law’s definition of violence also includes damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. Under law, insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.

The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years.

Citizens frequently used traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, commonly known as maslaha, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the victims or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas. In February however, the interior cabinet secretary announced that the government would not permit local government officials and community leaders to use maslaha to resolve the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in rural Wajir County, and that the investigation must proceed through official channels.

The National Police Service recorded 2,557 reports of sexual gender based violence (SGBV) between January and June on the National Sexual Gender Based Violence Information System. Authorities investigated 2,393 cases, leading to 454 prosecutions, with six convictions as of June.

The governmental KNCHR’s November report on sexual violence during and after the 2017 election found that sexual and gender-based violations accounted for 25 percent of human rights violations, and 71 percent of the sexual assaults were categorized as rape. Ninety-six percent of the victims were female. The same report found that security officers committed an estimated 55 percent of the documented sexual assaults. More than half the victims lived in informal settlements in urban areas, primarily in Nairobi, and 80 percent were either unable to access or did not seek proper medical care within 72 hours. Only 22 percent of the documented victims reported the assault to police, and police reportedly acted indifferently to some accusations of sexual assault against authorities. KNCHR’s report included a raft of official recommendations to the Presidency, the National Police Service Commission, the Ministries of Interior and Health, IPOA, ODPP, the Judiciary, county governments, and other state bodies.

Although police no longer required physicians to examine victims, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape victims.

Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, non-accidental death for women during the year. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. Government officials often participated in public awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to a study by ActionAid Kenya published in October, despite the legal prohibition on FGM/C, myths supporting the practice remained deep-rooted in some local cultures. The study concluded approximately 21 percent of adult women had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a minority of communities, including the Maasai (78 percent) and Samburu (86 percent).

Media reported growing numbers of female students refused to participate in FGM/C ceremonies, traditionally performed during the August and December school holidays. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports the practice of FGM/C increasingly occurred underground to avoid prosecution.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. Such inheritance was more likely in cases of economically disadvantaged women with limited access to education living outside of major cities. Other forced marriages were also common. The law codifies the right of men to enter into consensual marriage with additional women without securing the consent of any existing wife.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and victims rarely filed charges.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. The justice system and widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.

The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms that parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. For example, according to a 2018 World Bank report, it was difficult in much of the country for widows to access a deceased husband’s bank account.

According to an October report by CEDAW, despite the laws, much of the country held to the traditions that married women are not entitled to their fathers’ property and that upon remarriage, a woman loses her claim to her deceased husband’s property. In May the High Court dismissed a case by FIDA challenging the constitutionality of the provision of the Matrimonial Property Act stating that parties to a marriage are entitled to marital property proportional to their contribution towards acquiring it. FIDA had argued that the provision indirectly discriminates against women, who often contribute less directly to marital income.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from the citizenship of the parents, and either parent may transmit citizenship. Birth registration is compulsory. An estimated 63 percent of births were officially registered. Lack of official birth certificates resulted in discrimination in delivery of public services. The Department of Civil Registration Services began implementing the Maternal Child Health Registration Strategy requiring nurses administering immunizations to register the births of unregistered children.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory through age 13. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory attendance law uniformly.

While the law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until after giving birth, NGOs reported that schools often did not respect this right. School executives sometimes expelled pregnant girls or transferred them to other schools.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes several forms of violence that affect children, including early and forced marriage, FGM/C, incest, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Violence against children, particularly in poor and rural communities, was common, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurred frequently.

The minimum sentence for conviction of defilement is life imprisonment if the victim is younger than 11 years old, 20 years in prison if the victim is between ages 11 and 16, and 10 years’ imprisonment if the child is age 16 or 17. Although exact numbers were unavailable, media reported several defilement convictions during the year. In September a court sentenced an 82-year-old man to life imprisonment for defiling a minor.

The government banned corporal punishment in schools, but there were reports corporal punishment occurred.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and men. Media occasionally highlighted the problem of early and forced marriage, which some ethnic groups commonly practiced. Under the constitution, the kadhi courts retained jurisdiction over Muslim marriage and family law in cases where all parties profess the Muslim religion and agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts. According to media reports, in August, six men in Baringo County killed a 13-year-old girl for refusing to become a 60-year-old man’s fifth wife. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, including prohibiting procurement of a child younger than age 18 for unlawful sexual relations. The law also prohibits domestic and international trafficking, or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of children up to the age of 18 for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Provisions apply equally to girls and boys. The Sexual Offenses Act has specific sections on child trafficking, child sex tourism, child prostitution, and child pornography. Nevertheless, according to human rights organizations, children were sexually exploited and victims of trafficking.

Child Soldiers: Although there were no reports the government recruited child soldiers, there were reports that the al-Shabaab terrorist group recruited children in areas bordering Somalia.

Displaced Children: Poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS continued to intensify the problem of child homelessness. Street children faced harassment and physical and sexual abuse from police and others and within the juvenile justice system. The government operated programs to place street children in shelters and assisted NGOs in providing education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and medical care to street children whom the commercial sex industry abused and exploited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community is small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. A number of laws limit the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, the Marriage Act limits the rights of persons with mental disabilities to get married and the Law of Succession limits the rights of persons with disabilities to inheritance. The constitution provides for legal representation of persons with disabilities in legislative and appointive bodies. The law provides that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings, and some buildings in major cities had wheelchair ramps and modified elevators and restrooms. The government did not enforce the law, however, and new construction often did not include accommodations for persons with disabilities. Government buildings in rural areas generally were not accessible to persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, police stations remained largely inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities.

NGOs reported that persons with disabilities had limited opportunities to obtain education and job training at all levels due to lack of accessibility of facilities and resistance by school officials and parents to devoting resources to students with disabilities.

Authorities received reports of killings of persons with disabilities as well as torture and abuse, and the government took action in some cases. In June the government reported a rise in defilement and confinement of persons living with albinism. According to an official, a majority of cases went unreported, while others were handled informally at the village level.

Persons with disabilities faced significant barriers to accessing health care. They had difficulty obtaining HIV testing and contraceptive services due to the perception they should not engage in sexual activity. According to Handicap International, 36 percent of persons with disabilities reported facing difficulties in accessing health services; cost, distance to a health facility, and physical barriers were the main reasons cited.

Few facilities provided interpreters or other accommodations to persons with hearing disabilities. The government assigned each region a sign language interpreter for court proceedings. Authorities often delayed or adjourned cases involving persons who had hearing disabilities due to a lack of standby interpreters, according to an official with the NGO Deaf Outreach Program. According to the KNCHR, 10 secondary schools in the country could accommodate persons with hearing limitations.

The Ministry for Devolution and Planning is the lead ministry for implementation of the law to protect persons with disabilities. The quasi-independent but government-funded parastatal National Council for Persons with Disabilities assisted the ministry. Neither entity received sufficient resources to address effectively problems related to persons with disabilities.

Nominated and elected parliamentarians with disabilities formed the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Caucus in 2013 and issued a strategy statement focusing on improving economic empowerment and physical access for persons with disabilities as well as integrating disability rights into county government policies. According to a 2017 CEDAW report, persons with disabilities comprised only 2.8 percent of the Senate and National Assembly, less than the 5 percent mandated by the constitution (see section 3).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were 42 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas.

Many factors contributed to interethnic conflicts: longstanding grievances regarding land-tenure policies and competition for scarce agricultural land; the proliferation of illegal guns; cattle rustling; the growth of a modern warrior/bandit culture (distinct from traditional culture); ineffective local political leadership; diminished economic prospects for groups affected by regional droughts; political rivalries; and the struggle of security forces to quell violence. Conflict between landowners and squatters was particularly severe in the Rift Valley and coastal regions, while competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, between December 2016 and April 2017, in defiance of a court order, Kenya Forest Service guards burned multiple dwellings of the minority Sengwer tribe in order to evict them from Embobut Forest.

There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes over county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions. In August and September, there were a number of deadly inter-community clashes over government proposals to resume the evictions from the Mau forest in the southern Rift Valley region. As part of a dispute dating back to the colonial period, the government claims many of the communities were illegally living on and damaging forest land in a crucial conservation zone and drainage basin.

Ethnic differences also caused a number of discriminatory employment practices.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward. In April 2016 the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission filed Petition 150 of 2016 challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. As of year’s end the two cases remained in progress. On March 22, the Court of Appeals in Mombasa ruled that the use of forced anal examinations by the state to determine participation in homosexual acts is unconstitutional. During the year the Kenya Film and Classification Board banned showings of the Kenyan film Rafiki over its presentation of LGBTI themes. After the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in France, a Kenyan court ordered the ban suspended for one week in October so that the film could qualify to be nominated for a U.S. Academy Award.

LGBTI organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.

Authorities permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.

Violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals was widespread. In June LGBTI activists reported receiving death threats following the first pride event held at Kakuma refugee camp.

In May 2017 the government gazetted a taskforce in order to implement a High Court’s judgment in the 2014 Baby ‘A’ case recognizing the existence of intersex persons. The taskforce was seen as a step to reduce violence and discrimination targeting intersex persons. In July 2017 the taskforce launched a nationwide program to record the number of intersex citizens. That information was not publicly available as of October.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government, along with international and NGO partners, made progress in creating an enabling environment to combat the social stigma of HIV and AIDS and to address the gap in access to HIV information and services. For example, the government launched treatment guidelines for sex workers and injected drug users in collaboration with key stakeholders. The government and NGOs supported a network of more than 5,000 counseling and testing centers providing free HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Diagnosis of other sexually transmitted infections was available through hospitals and clinics throughout the country. In 2016, according to its website, the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Campaign to stop HIV infections led to the opening of 46 mobile clinics across the country.

Stigma nonetheless continued to hinder efforts to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and to provide testing and treatment services. In July a court sentenced a woman to death for murdering her boyfriend when she discovered that he had hidden his HIV positive status from her.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence and vigilante action were common in areas where the populace lacks confidence in the criminal justice system. In September a mob protesting the police killing of a civilian attacked a police station in Kisii County (western region) and killed three persons, including one officer. The social acceptability of mob violence also provided cover for acts of personal vengeance. Police frequently failed to act to stop mob violence.

Land owners formed groups in some parts of the country to protect their interests from rival groups or thieves. In March the National Cohesion and Integration Commission reported more than 100 such organized groups nationwide. Reports indicated that politicians often fund these groups or provide them weapons, particularly around election periods. Mombasa County reported 20 land invasions between March and July in parts of Mombasa and neighboring Kilifi counties.

In 2016 the Senate and the National Assembly established a joint parliamentary select committee to investigate police brutality and mob violence. The committee’s activities ceased, however, in the run up to the 2017 election.

Societal discrimination continued against persons with albinism, many of whom left their home villages due to fear of abuse and moved to urban areas where they believed they were safer. Individuals attacked persons with albinism for their body parts, which some believed could confer magical powers and which could be sold for significant sums.

Kuwait

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information about owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

Some activists have alleged that family members have been deprived of access to education, healthcare, and jobs if they advocate for the Bidoon.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other individuals of concern.

Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered foreign residents and not labelled as migrants.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some Bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to Bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. Additionally, the law permits the government to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. Children born of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers are not granted citizenship. Children born of noncitizen mothers and Kuwaiti fathers are granted citizenship.

In May the Court of Cassation affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify the withdrawal of the citizenship of any citizen. There were, however, cases in which natural born citizens had their citizenship revoked, even when courts found it illegal.

Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens. A Council of Ministers committee created in 2017 to review citizenship revocations since 1991, received 200 appeals and sent their recommendations for 70 of those to the Council of Ministers. Seven families had their citizenship restored, while the other 63 were rejected. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a Bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. UNHCR recognized approximately 1,650 registered asylum seekers and refugees in the country.

During the year the country suspended an agreement allowing refugees to be resettled in Turkey, Jordan, and Sudan, among others. The decision followed protests, notably in Sudan, over this policy.

Freedom of Movement: During the year UNHCR reported that hundreds of Syrian refugees remained at the deportation center since, according to UNHCR, they could not be sent back to Syria without the refugees’ approval. Holding refugees at the deportation center for long periods has exacerbated an already difficult situation at the overcrowded facility.

Employment: Most asylum seekers and refugees were from Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, and many were either employed or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many reported being increasingly fearful of losing their job, residency status, or both.

Access to Basic Services: Due to populist antiexpatriate sentiments in the country, the government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, an increasing cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

Stateless Persons

According to the latest government figures, there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon in the country, while in Human Rights Watch estimated the Bidoon population at more than 100,000 in 2018. The law does not provide noncitizens, including Bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.

The naturalization process for Bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring Bidoon affairs, had more than 88,000 registered Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.

According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment after citizens, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. As of March approximately 12,700 Bidoon admitted holding other nationalities.

Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the central agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork if Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality such as Saudi, Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, or Jordanian, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon.

According to UNHCR some Bidoon underwent DNA testing to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against Bidoon in some areas. Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, Bidoon do not have property rights.

Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics.

Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some Bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many Bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions as citizens were given priority to attend public school.

The government amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 25,000 Bidoons are awaiting enlistment.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape is not a crime under the law, and there is no specific domestic violence law. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The penal code allows a rapist to elude punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of rape and domestic violence.

When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In September, two male citizens were sentenced to five years in prison for raping a non-Kuwaiti woman.

Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on violence against women, domestic violence cases against women were regularly reported by members of civil society organizations that worked on gender violence issues. While there is no specific domestic violence law, punishments ranged between six months in jail to the death penalty. Service providers that assisted women claimed that domestic violence statistics were significantly underreported. Women’s rights activists have recounted numerous stories of citizen women trying to get help to leave an abusive situation, but there were no shelters specifically for victims of domestic abuse. The authorities claimed to have opened a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, but activists familiar with the facility have said it was an empty building. Advocates claimed that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers were not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances may also be their abusers.

The government does not publish statistics on violence against women. During the year a Kuwait University study found that 53 percent of Kuwaiti women were victims of domestic violence. A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. A woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any honor killings during the year. The penal code treats some honor crimes as misdemeanors or provides for very light penalties. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($743).

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment, but the law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, and police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault faced fines and imprisonment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but citizen women enjoyed many political rights. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no known cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, and securing housing. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally, but in sharia courts, which govern personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance issues, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The Kuwaiti Family Law Code prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, but allows marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women (of Abrahamic faiths). The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of children of non-Muslim women who do not convert. A non-Muslim woman who does not convert to the religion of her husband is also ineligible for naturalization as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or their children; however, exceptions were made for some children of widowed or divorced female citizens. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination.

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives entirely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers do not inherit citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the noncitizen father. The government designates religion on birth and marriage certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their Bidoon children because of extensive administrative requirements. The lack of a birth certificate prevented such children from accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended education benefits to Bidoon has not been implemented fully.

Medical Care: Lack of identification papers sometimes restricted Bidoon access to public medical care.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but girls continued to marry at a younger age in some tribal groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography, because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations; premarital sexual relations are illegal.

In April the Child Protection Office of the Ministry of Health reported 60 cases of sexual assault on children, of approximately 600 child abuse cases that occurred in 2017. Most abuses occurred within the family. The agency reported an increase in the rate of reported cases of child abuse following the establishment of the office, which has made significant efforts in monitoring and following cases of child abuse since it was established in 2014.

The agency set up a 24-hour hotline to receive reports of child mistreatment and abuse from within the family.

In July government officials said that cases of child abuse continued to rise every year, with 20 percent of all cases related to sexual abuse. A new policy aimed at protecting children from dangers posed by social media platforms and exploitation by parents and other adults had been put in place by the Child Protection Office in the Juvenile Protection Department. The policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or can expose them to sexual predators.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric often originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. These columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens. This included transporting Israeli citizens on the country’s national airline.

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 permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, job training, and social welfare costs. The government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.

During the year the government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. Nonetheless, authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities, and noncitizen students with disabilities experienced a lack of accessible materials and lack of reasonable accommodations in schools.

Children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens and Bidoon was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment (see section 7.d.), education, housing, social interaction, and health care. The Ministry of Interior uses administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize sexual behavior between women. The law imposes a fine of approximately 1,060 dinars (approximately $3,500) and imprisonment for one to three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detention, and abuse by security forces.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTI human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local human rights NGOs reported no accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. Consular officers who have reviewed medical visa applications for countries with strong HIV/AIDS treatment have alleged that local doctors and hospitals will not diagnose a patient with HIV/AIDS on their medical reports so that the patient is not subject to social stigma. Since 2016 authorities deported 576 foreign residents with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Unmarried persons continued to face housing discrimination based solely on marital status. For example, police frequently raided apartment blocks housing bachelors. The law prohibits single persons from obtaining accommodation in many urban residential areas. Single noncitizens faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizens’ families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic.

Laos

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law generally prohibits such actions, including privacy of mail, telephone, and electronic correspondence, but the government continued its broad use of security law exemptions when there was a perceived security threat.

The law prohibits unlawful searches and seizures. Although the law requires police to obtain search authorization from a prosecutor or a panel of judges, police did not always obtain prior approval, especially in rural areas. Security laws allow the government to monitor individuals’ movements and private communications, including via mobile telephones and email (see section 2.a.).

The Ministry of Public Security monitored citizen activities through a surveillance network that included secret police. A police auxiliary program in urban and rural areas, operating under individual village chiefs and local police, shared responsibility for maintaining public order and reported “undesirable” persons to police. Members of the LPRP’s front organizations, including the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), the Youth Union, and the Lao Front for National Construction, also monitored citizens.

The law allows citizens to marry foreigners only with prior government approval. Authorities may annul marriages entered into without approval, with both parties subject to arrest and fines. The government normally granted permission to marry, but the process was lengthy and burdensome, offering officials opportunity to solicit bribes. Premarital cohabitation with foreigners is illegal, although it was rarely enforced, and generally only when the Lao party complained of some injustice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The government used the law to restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches, with the exception of animist groups, are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The absence of comprehensive and timely monitoring by international organizations and independent observers made it difficult to verify the number and condition of IDPs; their situation, protection, and reintegration; government restrictions on them; and their access to basic services and assistance. The collapse of a dam under construction in Attapeu Province in July resulted in the displacement of an estimated 6,000 persons.

The government continued to relocate some villagers to accommodate land concessions given to development projects and relocated highland farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, to lowland areas under its plan to provide better access to roads and health and education services, and to end opium production and slash-and-burn agriculture. Families frequently reported the government displaced them for government projects, for example a railroad linking Vientiane with China.

Although resettlement plans called for compensating farmers for lost land and providing resettlement assistance, in many cases villagers considered the assistance insufficient. Moreover, in some areas farmland allotted to relocated villagers was poor and unsuited for intensive rice farming. The government relied on assistance from NGOs, bilateral donors, and international organizations to cover the needs of those it resettled, but such aid was not available in all areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status, but it dealt with individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Authorities reportedly detained refugees recognized by UNHCR, such as Kha Yang after his deportation from Thailand in 2011. Authorities did not acknowledge UNHCR requests for access to him at that time. Kha Yang’s whereabouts remained unknown.

The government’s policy both for Hmong surrendering internally and for those returned from Thailand was to return them to their community of origin whenever possible.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and provides for penalties of three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is younger than 18 years or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. A 2016 UN Population Fund study found that one in seven women experienced physical or sexual violence and most of those women said they had experienced such violence multiple times. Only 4 percent of women who had experienced violence contacted the police.

Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.

The LWU and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a countrywide hotline for persons to report incidents of domestic violence and receive telephonic counseling.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and may be punished by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its prevalence remained difficult to assess.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women as for men and equal pay for equal work, but in some regions, traditional attitudes about gender roles kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of cultural-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas.

The LWU operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including conducting programs to strengthen the role of women; the programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in civil service and private business, and in urban areas, their incomes frequently were higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities.

Children

Birth Registration: Regardless of where they are born, children acquire citizenship if both parents are citizens. Children born of one citizen parent acquire citizenship if born in the country or, when born outside the country’s territory, if one parent has a permanent in-country address. Parents did not register all births immediately. The village chief registers children born in remote areas, and then the local authority adds the name and date of birth of the child in the family registration book. Every family must have a family registration book. If parents failed to register a child at birth, they could request to add the child to the family registration book later.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal through fifth grade, but a shortage of teachers and the expectation children would help their parents with farming in rural areas prevented some children from attending school. There were significant differences among ethnic groups in the educational opportunities available to boys and girls. To increase elementary school attendance by ethnic minority children, the government continued to support the establishment of dormitories in rural areas countrywide. School enrollment rates for girls were lower than for boys, although the gender disparity continued to decrease. According to 2016 data, 17 percent of school-age girls, compared with 11 percent of school-age boys, never attended school.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, and offenders are subject to re-education programs and unspecified penal measures in more serious cases. (For statistics on violence against children, see the UNICEF website.)

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18 years, but the law allows marriage as young as 15 years with parental consent. Approximately 35 percent of girls married before they reached 18 years, and 9 percent married before they were 15 years old, a practice particularly prevalent among certain ethnic groups and impoverished rural families.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consensual sex is 15 years. The law does not provide penalties for child prostitution, but the penalty for sex with a child (defined as younger than 15 years) is one to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to three million kip ($58 to $350). The law does not include statutory rape as a crime distinct from sex with a child or rape. Authorities did not treat child pornography differently from pornography in general, for which the penalty is three months to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 200,000 kip ($5.85 to $23.40).

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The government continued efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through periodic raids and training workshops. The government and NGOs hosted seminars to train tourism-sector employees, and many major international hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang displayed posters warning against child sex tourism.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although constitutional protections against discrimination do not apply specifically to persons with disabilities, regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Lao National Commission for the Disabled generally sought to protect such persons against discrimination. Authorities rarely enforced these regulations. Little information was available regarding discrimination in the workplace, although persons with disabilities reported it was difficult sometimes to access basic services and obtain employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has primary responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is also involved in addressing health-related needs of persons with disabilities and continued to coordinate with international NGOs.

The law requires construction projects begun after 2009 to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities, particularly buildings, roads, and public places. The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings built before its enactment or government services for persons with disabilities, but Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare regulations resulted in construction of additional sidewalk ramps.

The government continued to implement its strategic plan to protect the rights of children with disabilities and enable them to study alongside other children in schools countrywide. The nongovernmental Lao Disabled People’s Association noted that in many cases students with disabilities lacked access to separate education.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and bars discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation. Nonetheless, some societal discrimination persisted. Moreover, some critics continued to charge the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture and opium production adversely affected many ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas. In some rural ethnic minority areas, a lack of livelihoods and decent employment contributed to significant migration to urban areas and practices such as illegal logging.

Of the 49 official ethnic groups in the country, the Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent. A number of Hmong officials served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP, including one Politburo member and several members of the LPRP Central Committee. Some Hmong maintained separatist or irredentist political beliefs, and small, scattered pockets of insurgents and their families remained in rural areas. The government continued to reduce its efforts to combat them actively, while continuing to offer amnesty to those who surrendered. Amnestied insurgents continued to be the focus of official suspicion and scrutiny, and the government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for housing, employment, or government services. There were no reports of discrimination, but observers believed societal stigma and concern about repercussions led some to withhold reporting incidents of abuse.

There were no legal impediments to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizational activities, but the government discouraged such activities by withholding approval to organizations wishing to hold public awareness activities.

Some societal discrimination in employment and housing persisted, and there were no governmental efforts to address it. Local activists explained that most openly LGBTI persons did not attempt to apply for government or high-level private-sector jobs because there was a tacit understanding that employers were unwilling to hire them. Reports indicated lesbians faced greater societal stigma and discrimination than gay men, while the transgender population faced the highest levels of societal stigma and discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Research conducted in 2012 found persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant social stigma, which for some resulted in verbal and physical assault, job loss, and income loss. The Ministry of Health continued to promote tolerance and understanding of persons with HIV/AIDS through public-awareness campaigns. The government took steps to include gay men and transgender persons in its National Strategy and Action plan for HIV/AIDS prevention. Senior government officials stated that stigma towards the LGBTI community had decreased in at least some parts of society, although the government did not directly address or support transgender issues.

Lebanon

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but authorities interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports that security services monitored private email and other digital correspondence. On January 8, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout reported a spyware campaign operating from servers they identified as belonging to DGS. According to the report, since 2012 the campaign targeted the communications and activities of users in several countries, including Lebanese journalists and activists, by installing malware from fake versions of secure Android apps such as WhatsApp.

The law provides for the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.

Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside the area of central government authority also frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

As of October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered more than 976,000 Syrian refugees, almost 16,400 Iraqis, more than 1,700 Sudanese refugees, and refugees of other nationalities in the country. UNHCR estimated that another 300,000 Syrians were unregistered, a result of government policy banning new registrations. While the government has allowed no new UNHCR registrations of refugees, UN agencies reported that working relationships with government ministries were generally productive. Some elements of the government, most notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have attacked UNHCR, other UN agencies, and some donor governments for purportedly discouraging refugee returns to Syria, including threatening to eject some of those countries’ officials from Lebanon. The foreign minister for several months blocked renewal of legal residency for UNHCR staff, affecting the organization’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) assisted Palestinian refugees registered in the country. Approximately 470,000 Palestinians were registered as refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon as of December 2017. As of October, UNRWA estimated the number of Palestinians residing in the country was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). As of October, UNRWA reconfirmed more than 29,000 PRS individuals residing in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia), tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, who faced physical and mental abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, particularly as many victims later refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to fear of reprisals or deportation.

In one highly publicized example, a domestic worker advocacy group reported that an Ethiopian domestic worker badly injured herself after leaping from a balcony to escape a physically abusive sponsoring family. The worker alleged the family abused and beat her, but later retracted her statements in televised interviews with the family. Advocacy groups suspected the well connected family coerced her to recant. The family reportedly sought to suppress media reporting on the incident through Lebanon’s libel and defamation laws.

In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The DGS, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the DGS generally approved such transfers.

In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, the government waived renewal fees for refugees registered with UNHCR, a change to be implemented by the DGS. While the government intended these policies to improve the ability of Syrian refugees to obtain and maintain legal residency, there has been little improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 27 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of October.

Due to the slow implementation of a February 2017 residency fee waiver by the DGS and, in many cases, failure to obtain or keep a Lebanese sponsor, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of regular arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees met by foreign diplomats said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for Iraqi refugees and refugees of other nationalities. UNHCR reports that only 20 percent of Syrian refugees were legal residents. There is no official limitation of movement for PRS in the country; however, PRS without valid legal status faced limitations to their freedom of movement, mainly due to the fear and risk of arrest at checkpoints. UNRWA reported anecdotal accounts of authorities detaining PRS without legal residency documents as well as issuing “departure orders” for those with expired visas.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border for PRS only to persons with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Authorities issue most of these individuals a 24-hour transit visa. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured a visa for Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country arrived after 2016.

Compared to the policy applied to Syrian nationals, authorities applied tighter conditions to PRS (notwithstanding restrictions on Syrians announced in January 2015). For example, Syrian nationals, in principle, could enter with humanitarian visas, while this opportunity was not available to PRS. Consequently, some PRS sought to enter the country through irregular border crossings, placing them at additional risk of exploitation and abuse and creating an obstacle to later regularizing their legal status.

In July 2017 DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delays. It applied to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016, and granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents more easily, for cases of children without passports or national identity cards. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings; authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings, but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

In October 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians.

In principle, asylum seekers and refugees of nationalities other than Syrian, if arrested because of irregular entry or stay, were sentenced to one to three month’s imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine. Some also received a deportation order, due to illegal entry.

According to UNHCR most non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom approximately 27,000 were registered Palestine refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. As of July approximately 55 percent of displaced families returned to newly reconstructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. The DGS coordinated with Syrian regime officials to facilitate the voluntary return of 4,800 refugees, as of October 1. UNHCR did not organize these returns but was present at departure points and, in interviews with refugees, found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced. Between July 2017 and June, DGS deported seven Iraqi refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees.

Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land; they were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.

In 2017 the Ministry of Labor issued an administrative decree that allowed Syrian refugees with valid legal residency to work in construction, agriculture, and cleaning. The decree does not apply to PRS, and many, therefore, worked unofficially, exposing them to discrimination and increased risk of abuse and exploitation. Large number of PRS families in the country relied heavily on UNRWA financial assistance.

As of June 30, there were more than 975,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after early 2015. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 19 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.

In 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it allowed refugees to pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.

In addition to more than 16,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 3,500 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities usually enforced them only on Syrian refugees.

Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. As of July UNHCR confirmed the evictions of 336 households, comprising more than 1,500 refugees across the country. UNHCR only tracks “mass evictions” of five or more households; the overall number of refugees affected by eviction is higher. Furthermore, UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. For example, in Metn refugees were under curfew from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, although observers reported no violent incidents. UNHCR staff reported these restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, who authorities are less likely to stop, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.

The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retired or resigned. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 36 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to bureaucracy and stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country had changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which past conflicts heavily damaged. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process at year’s end. In April UNRWA revised the overall estimated cost of the completing Nahr el Bared camp from LL 521 billion ($345 million) to LL 497 billion ($329 million). Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and a shortfall of LL 135 billion ($90 million) remained. On April 25, the prime minister appealed to the international community at the Brussels II Syria Conference to fund shortfall for reconstructing the camp, reconfirming this project as a priority for the country. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return.

A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs, but individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to public health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 213,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2017-18 academic year. Authorities estimated that there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR verification exercises confirmed that authorities enrolled more than 600 Iraqi children in formal public schools for the 2017-18 school year. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

STATELESS PERSONS

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and, increasingly, Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons passed to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately 3-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These persons are Palestinians who began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize them as they do not hold valid legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures; all of which limited access to public services and formal employment.

Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other fields, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases, UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of undocumented Palestinians were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, a proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country between 2011 and February. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.

Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities denied them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and other obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 due to a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, and own or inherit property.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and the use of threats or violence to claim a “marital right to intercourse.” While the government effectively enforced the law, its interpretation by religious courts precluded full implementation of civil law in all provinces. The minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of rape is five years, or seven years for raping a minor. In August 2017 parliament repealed the article of the penal code that freed rapists from prosecution and nullified their convictions if they married their victims.

The law criminalizes domestic violence, but it does not specifically provide protection for women. Despite a law that sets a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for battery, some religious courts may legally require a battered wife to return to her home despite physical abuse. Foreign domestic workers, usually women, often suffered from mistreatment, abuse, and in some cases rape or conditions akin to slavery. Some police, especially in rural areas, treated domestic violence as a social, rather than criminal, matter.

NGOs and activists criticized the domestic violence law, claiming that it does not sufficiently protect victims or punish abusers, whom they alleged often received disproportionately light sentences. On January 29, activists gathered in downtown Beirut to protest perceived inaction by the judiciary and security forces to respond to such cases after at least eight women died in domestic violence incidents through January. Examples included a woman whose husband shot her outside their home in front of neighbors following a dispute. On April 25, a judge issued an indictment and called for the death penalty for the husband who had fled to Syria but subsequently returned and surrendered to investigators. The case was ongoing as of October.

Police and judicial officials worked to improve their management of domestic violence cases, but they noted that social and religious pressures–especially in more conservative communities–led to underreporting of cases, while some victims sought arbitration through religious courts or between families rather than through the justice system.

The government provided legal assistance to domestic violence victims who could not afford it, and police response to complaints submitted by battered or abused women improved. During the year ISF and judicial officials received training on best practices for vulnerable female detainees, including victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. NGOs that provided services to such victims reported increased access to potential victims in ISF and DGS custody. In February the ISF began alerting its human rights unit to all cases involving victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable groups, so officers could track the cases and provide for proper conduct.

The Women’s Affairs Division in the Ministry of Social Affairs and several NGOs continued projects to address sexual or gender-based violence, such as providing counseling and shelter for victims and training ISF personnel to combat violence in prisons.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and it remained a widespread problem. According to the UN Population Fund, the labor law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace; it merely gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice in the event that the employer or representative committed an indecent offense towards the employee or a family member. There are, however, no legal consequences for the perpetrator.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women suffered discrimination under the law and in practice. In matters of child custody, inheritance, and divorce, personal status laws provide unequal treatment across the various confessional court systems but generally discriminate against women. For example, Sunni civil courts applied an inheritance law that provides a son twice the inheritance of a daughter. Religious law on child custody matters favors the father in most instances. Nationality law also discriminates against women, who may not confer citizenship to their spouses and children, although widows may confer citizenship to their minor children. On August 29, however, the Ministry of Interior issued a circular allowing a divorced woman to include the names of her children on her civil record.

By law women may own property, but they often ceded control of it to male relatives due to cultural reasons and family pressure.

The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment and provides for equal pay for men and women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, which may result in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and noncitizen father who may not transmit his own citizenship (see section 2.d.). If a child’s birth is not registered within the first year, the process for legitimizing the birth is long and costly, often deterring families from registration. In September 2017 the General Directorate of Personal Status issued a memorandum to facilitate marriage and birth registration procedures of Syrian nationals, which removed some difficult-to-fulfill requirements for Syrian parents. Syrian refugees no longer needed legal residency to register the birth of their child. Subsequently, authorities waived several requirements for late birth registration.

Some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers also faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law. NGOs reported discrimination against them, although some could attend public school.

Religious courts legally handled personal status for civil matters, applied religious laws of the various confessions, and occasionally interfered in family matters such as child custody in the case of divorce. Refugee birth registrations require families to register birth certificates with Lebanese ministries, which remained inaccessible because the ministries require proof of legal residence and legal marriage.

Education: Education for citizens is free and compulsory through the primary phase; however, authorities required modest school fees from parents that acted as a barrier to poorer families. Noncitizen children, including those born of noncitizen fathers and citizen mothers and refugees, lacked this right. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education directed that non-Lebanese students could not out number Lebanese in any given classroom during the regular school shift, which sometimes limited enrollment. The ministry, however, opened a second shift at 350 public schools specifically for Syrian refugee children.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a comprehensive child protection law; however, a law on the “Protection of at-Risk Children or Children Violating the Law,” provided some protection to children who were victims of violence.

As of September 30, the child protection NGO Himaya reported assisting more than 1,300 cases of psychological, physical, sexual abuse as well as exploitation and neglect. The Ministry of Social Affairs had a hotline to report cases of child abuse. In a typical example, representatives of a local shelter for abused women and children described a case of a father who sexually and physically abused a child in the shelter’s care. According to the organization, the father escaped punishment through religious courts, as many families chose to handle such cases through these courts rather than the national justice system.

UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no legal minimum age for marriage, and the government does not perform civil marriages. Instead, religious courts set the marriage age based on confessionally determined personal status law, and minimum ages for marriage differ accordingly. UN agencies, NGOs, and government officials noted higher rates of early marriage among the Syrian refugee population. They partially attributed this circumstance to social and economic pressure on families with limited resources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code prohibits and punishes commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, and forced prostitution. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and statutory rape penalties include hard labor for a minimum of five years and a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 15 years old. The government generally enforced the law.

ISF, DGS, and judicial officials improved enforcement of the country’s antitrafficking law, which prohibits the sexual exploitation of children. NGOs provided training throughout the year to increase police and judicial officials’ sensitivity to the issue and reported increased numbers of potential victims that authorities referred to NGO-run shelters and victim protection programs.

Displaced Children: Some refugee children lived and worked on the street. Given the poor economic environment, limited freedom of movement, and little opportunity for livelihoods for adults, many Syrian refugee families relied on children to earn money for the family. Refugee children were at greater risk of exploitation and child labor, since they had greater freedom of movement compared to their parents, who often lacked residency permits.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated enrollment of almost 217,000 non-Lebanese children in the 2017-18 academic year. The government and some NGOs offered a number of informal education programs to eligible students.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

At year’s end there were approximately 100 Jews living in the country and 6,000 registered Jewish voters who lived abroad but had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The Jewish Community Council reported that between May and June vandals destroyed tombs and gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Sidon, attempting to rob graves that they believed contained gold. Rooms, shops, and a gas station were built on the land of the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli, and a lawsuit was filed in 2011. While the suit was still pending, authorities took no action by year’s end.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

According to the law, persons with disabilities have the right to employment, education, health services, accessibility, and the right to vote; however, there was no evidence the government effectively enforced the law. Although prohibited by law, discrimination against persons with disabilities continued.

Employment law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. The law mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities, but the government failed to amend building codes. The law does not mandate access to information nor accommodations for communication for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that persons with disabilities fill at least 3 percent of all government and private sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence indicating the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Council of Disabled are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to the president of the Arab Organization of Disabled People, little progress had occurred since parliament passed the law on disabilities in 2000. Resource limitations restricted the ability of the government to investigate adequately abuses against persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education stipulates that for new school building construction “schools should include all necessary facilities in order to receive the physically challenged.” Nonetheless, the public school system was ill equipped to accommodate students with disabilities.

Depending on the type and nature of the disability, children with a disability may attend mainstream school. Due to a lack of awareness or knowledge, school staff often did not identify a specific disability in children and could not adequately advise parents. In such cases children often repeated classes or dropped out of school. According to a March HRW report, children with disabilities lacked access to education as both public and private schools often improperly refused to admit them or charged additional fees, citing a lack of appropriate facilities or staff. In May the Ministry of Education and Higher Education launched a donor-supported inclusive education program to address these issues.

In the May parliamentary elections, access for persons with disabilities and older persons was a significant issue. ISF officers and poll workers helped, and at times carried, some voters with disabilities into the polling stations, which were ill equipped to accommodate persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Lebanese of African descent attributed discrimination to the color of their skin and claimed harassment by police, who periodically demanded to see their papers. Foreign Arab, African, and Asian students, professionals, and tourists reported being denied access to bars, clubs, restaurants, and private beaches.

Syrian workers, usually employed as manual laborers and construction workers, continued to suffer discrimination, as they did following the 2005 withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces from the country. Many municipalities enforced a curfew on Syrians’ movements in their neighborhoods in an effort to control security.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits sexual relations “contradicting the laws of nature” and effectively criminalizes consensual, same-sex sexual conduct among consenting adults. The law was occasionally enforced, and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison, although there were no successful prosecutions under the provision during the year. Some government and judicial officials, along with NGOs and legal experts questioned whether the law actually criminalized same-sex sexual conduct. There are no provisions of law providing antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

On July 12, a district appeals court ruled that same-sex relationships between adults could be considered neither “unnatural,” nor illegal. The case related to nine allegedly gay and transgender persons arrested in Beirut in 2015. The decision followed four similar rulings from lower courts.

Official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted.

Observers received reports from LGBTI refugees of physical abuse by local gangs, which the victims did not report to the ISF. Observers referred victims to UNHCR-sponsored protective services.

Most reports of abuse came from transgender women. An Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and Marsa project highlighted employment discrimination faced by transgender women due to the inconsistency between official documentation and gender self-presentation.

During the year government agents interfered with or restricted events focused on LGBTI rights. On May 14, a general prosecutor ordered the ISF to arrest and detain “Beirut Pride” organizer Hadi Damien on charges of obscenity relating to Beirut Pride events that highlighted and supported the LGBTI community. Authorities released Damien when he pledged to cancel the week’s remaining events rather than face charges of “incitement to immorality” and “breach of public morality.” Security services nevertheless allowed some LGBTI-focused events, panels, and forums facilitated by other organizations to continue.

The government did not collect information on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or lack of access to education or health care based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals who faced problems were reluctant to report incidents due to fear of additional discrimination. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS is stigmatized due to sensitivities about extramarital relations. Few who contracted the disease did so in the course of homosexual relations, which are also taboo. The main challenge facing AIDS patients, in addition to stigma and discrimination, was that many were unable to pay for regular follow-up tests that the Ministry of Public Health does not cover. The law requires the government to offer treatment to all residents who are AIDS patients rather than deporting foreigners who carry the disease.

Mongolia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to UNHCR-recognized refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

In-Country Movement: An order aimed at curbing air and environmental pollution and traffic jams, effective until January 1, 2020, suspends migration from the countryside to Ulaanbaatar. The law exempts persons traveling to Ulaanbaatar for medical treatment or for work for longer than six months.

Foreign Travel: Under the criminal code, at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, courts can ban the departure of persons who are plotting criminal activity. The law requires that those subject to an exit ban receive timely notification. Authorities did not allow persons under exit bans to leave until the disputes leading to the bans were resolved administratively or by court decision, and bans may remain in place for years. According to reports 500 persons, including several foreign residents, remained banned from leaving the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for granting asylum, and the government provided limited protections to foreign residents in the country while UNHCR adjudicated their refugee claims. The law establishes deportation criteria and permits the Agency for Foreign Citizens and Naturalization (the country’s immigration agency) to deport asylum seekers who it deems do not qualify.

Employment: The law does not afford a specific legal status to refugees and asylum seekers; by default, therefore, authorities usually treated them as irregular migrants and did not issued them work permits.

Access to Basic Services: Because the law does not provide for refugee status, asylum seekers generally did not have access to government-provided basic services such as health care and education. Refugees and asylum seekers could access private medical facilities with UNHCR support.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code outlaws sexual intercourse through physical violence, or threat of violence, and provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment or life imprisonment, depending on the circumstances. The criminal code criminalizes spousal rape. Domestic violence is also a crime, for which perpetrators can be punished administratively or criminally, including in the latter case a maximum two years’ imprisonment. The government maintained a nationwide database of domestic violence perpetrators, and those who commit a second domestic violence offense are automatically charged under criminal law.

The nongovernmental National Center against Violence (NCAV) and the NPA both reported during the year that police response to domestic violence complaints improved. Moreover, better training of justice-sector actors and the enactment of 31 new regulations designed to improve the implementation of domestic violence law contributed to an increase in convictions for domestic violence during the year. Although the law provides alternative measures of protection for victims of domestic abuse, including restraining orders, procedural and other barriers made these difficult to obtain and enforce.

Despite improvements, domestic violence remained a serious and widespread problem. The NPA reported increased reporting of domestic violence by third parties. Combating domestic violence is included in the accredited training curriculum of the police academy and in all police officer position descriptions.

The NCAV expanded its activities designed to support victims, including training for medical personnel who delivered services to deaf victims of domestic violence.

According to the NPA, there were nine shelters and 10 one-stop service centers for domestic violence survivors run by a variety of NGOs, local government agencies, and hospitals. The one-stop service centers, located primarily at hospitals, provided emergency shelter for a maximum of 72 hours. The relatively small number of shelters located in rural areas presented a challenge for domestic violence victims in those areas. The NCAV, which operated three shelters in the country, including two in rural areas, did not receive government funding during the first nine months of the year despite a law that requires such funding.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code does not include sexual harassment as a crime. NGOs said there was a lack of awareness and consensus within society of what constituted inappropriate behavior, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights to women and men, including equal pay for equal work and equal access to education. These rights were generally observed, although women faced discrimination in employment.

The law sets mandatory minimum quotas for women in the government and political parties. It also outlaws discrimination based on sex, appearance, or age, although some NGOs noted authorities did not enforce this provision.

In most cases the divorced wife retained custody of any children; divorced husbands often failed to pay child support and did so without penalty. Women’s activists said that because family businesses and properties usually were registered under the husband’s name, ownership continued to be transferred automatically to the former husband in divorce cases.

No separate government agency oversees women’s rights, but the National Committee on Gender Equality, chaired by the prime minister and implemented by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, coordinates policy and women’s interests among ministries, NGOs, and gender councils at the provincial and local levels. The government’s National Program on Gender Equality 2017-21 and its related action plan seek the economic empowerment of women and equal participation in political and public life.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, and as of October births were immediately registered and a registration number issued through an online system jointly developed by the Ministry of Health, the National Statistics Office, and the State Registration Agency. In the past births generally were registered within one to three weeks, although residents of rural areas sometimes registered their children somewhat later. Failure to register could result in the denial of public services.

Child Abuse: The criminal code includes a specific chapter on crimes against children, including forced begging, abandonment, inducing addiction, engaging children in criminal activity or pornography, and the trafficking and abuse of children.

Child abuse was a significant problem and consisted principally of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The government’s Family, Child, and Youth Development Authority (FCYDA) and the NCAV noted that reporting of child abuse increased following enactment of obligatory reporting laws. The FCYDA also noted its continued operation of a hotline to report child abuse and the opening of an emergency service center, including a shelter, for child victims of abuse.

Child abandonment was also a problem. Some children were orphaned or ran away from home because of poverty-related neglect or parental abuse. Police officials stated they sent children of abusive parents to shelters, but some observers indicated many youths were returned to abusive parents. According to the FCYDA, as of November there were 1,045 children living in 31 care centers, including orphanages.

Each province and all of Ulaanbaatar’s district police offices had a specialized police officer appointed to investigate crimes against, or committed by, juveniles. The FCYDA and Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs maintained 609 local task forces to prevent child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years, with court-approved exceptions for minors age 16 to 18 who obtain the consent of parents or guardians. There were no reports of underage or forced marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although illegal, the commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18 years was a problem. According to NGOs there were instances in which teenage girls were kidnapped, coerced, or deceived and forced to work in prostitution. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Violators of the statutory rape law (defined as sexual intercourse with a person younger than age 16 not involving physical violence or the threat of violence) are subject to a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Those who engaged children in prostitution or sexual exploitation are subject to a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, or life imprisonment if aggravating circumstances were present.

NGOs reported that online child pornography was relatively common. Although police took steps to improve their capacity to investigate such crimes and initiated the “unfriend movement” to increase protection of children online, technical expertise remained limited. Of 192 reported cases of child sexual abuse, police formally opened only 22 criminal cases for further investigation. The maximum penalty for engaging children in pornography under the criminal code is eight years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. Neo-Nazi groups active in the country tended to target other Asian nationalities and not Jews.

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 disabilities, defining these as restrictions due to permanent impairment of the body or intellectual, mental, or sensory capacities. Prohibitions against discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities are limited.

The president has an adviser on disability issues, and the prime minister chairs the Council for Implementing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which aims to enforce disabilities-related law; facilitate equal participation; and improve social, educational, health, and labor services for persons with disabilities.

In August the government established the Agency for Development of Persons with Disability under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, with a mandate to improve living conditions, employment opportunities, and accessibility to infrastructure and education for persons with disabilities.

There is no explicit prohibition of discrimination in education, but the law charges the government with creating conditions to provide students with disabilities an education. Students with disabilities are by law allowed to attend mainstream schools. Nevertheless, children with disabilities faced significant barriers to education. The nongovernmental Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children maintained that government efforts to offer inclusive education for children with disabilities were insufficient due in part to government instability and consequent staffing shortfalls. This NGO and FCYDA also stated schools often lacked trained staff and the infrastructure to accommodate children with disabilities. Although the majority of children with disabilities began public schooling, the dropout rate increased as the children aged. Children with disabilities in rural areas were more likely to drop out of school because most separate schools for students with disabilities were in Ulaanbaatar.

The Mongolian National Association of Wheelchair Users expressed concern the medical system effectively limited the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls with disabilities. The NGO also noted a case in which a woman with disabilities who was already the mother of two children underwent sterilization at her doctor’s urging.

Although the law mandates standards for physical access to new public buildings and a representative of persons with disabilities serves on the state commission for inspecting standards of new buildings, most new buildings were not constructed in compliance with the law. Public transport remained largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Emergency services were often inaccessible to blind and deaf persons because service providers lacked trained personnel and appropriate technologies. Moreover, domestic violence shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The criminal code prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, language, race, age, gender, social status, professional position, religion, education, or medical status. Violators are subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. As of September no cases were known to have been prosecuted under the law.

NGOs continued to report that LGBTI individuals faced violence and discrimination both in public and at home based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were reports LGBTI persons faced greater discrimination and fear in rural areas than in Ulaanbaatar due to less public awareness and limited online media accessibility in rural areas. The nongovernmental LGBT Center received a number of reports of violence against LGBTI persons, most involving young LGBTI persons who either came out to their families or their families discovered they were LGBTI.

The LGBT Center noted that despite increased police awareness of abuses faced by the LGBTI community and capacity to respond to problems affecting LGBTI persons, there were still reported cases involving police harassment of LGBTI victims of alleged crimes. Authorities frequently dismissed charges when a crime victim was an LGBTI person.

There were reports of discrimination against LGBTI persons in employment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although there was no official discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS, some societal discrimination existed. The public generally continued to associate HIV/AIDS with same-sex sexual activity, burdening victims with social stigma and potential employment discrimination.

Montenegro

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting undercover or monitoring operations without a warrant. The law requires the ANB and police to obtain court authorization for wiretaps. There were no official reports the government failed to respect these requirements for conducting physical and property searches. However, human rights activists, such as the NGO MANS, continued to claim that authorities engaged in illegal wiretapping and surveillance, but external judicial and parliamentary oversight bodies, including the opposition-controlled inspector general, did not report any violations of the law.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to displaced persons, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The Ministry of Interior significantly reduced the number of pending applications for resolving residency status in the country. As of September a total of 15,131 displaced persons (DPs) had applied to resolve their residency status. While authorities completed 14,828 of those requests, 303 were still pending. Of those completed, 12,242 received permanent or temporary resident status.

Persons whose applications for “foreigner with permanent residence” status were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold the legal status of DPs or IDPs. Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.

With UNHCR and OSCE support, the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Romani persons and Balkan Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under the Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. The process facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children.

Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to language barriers, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR, many remained vulnerable and in need of assistance.

Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was a party to the Regional Housing Program, facilitated by international donors, to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs in the country. During the year, the construction or purchase of apartments progressed well through eight projects which were in different stages of implementation.

A number of IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers. Approximately 600 Roma from Kosovo remained split between a settlement in Berane and a container camp