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Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the media.

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting in all elections is compulsory; failure to vote is punishable by a nominal fine.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections held in 2019 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In 2019 Sophie Wilmes became the country’s first female prime minister and oversaw the operation of the caretaker government. In October the country established a new federal government in which there were 10 female cabinet members, more than in any previous government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption, although no significant cases were reported during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

In 2020 the government established the Federal Institute of Human Rights and nominated a board president and vice president in May. The institute is intended to intervene where other agencies, such as UNIA or the federal center for migration (Myria), do not act. The mission of the institute is to provide opinions, recommendations, and reports to the federal government, the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate, and other official bodies, to ensure that the fundamental rights arising from the international treaties to which the country is a party are carried out. The new body is competent only at the federal level, but an interfederal approach was also envisaged through a cooperation agreement between federal and regional authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth on the country’s territory.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry. Federal police statistics for 2019 recorded 20 cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Local girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

In August the media reported that police had recorded a rise in sexual exploitation of minors online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police continued to track the problem.

In May the children’s rights NGO Child Focus released its 2020 annual report, which noted the group had received 2,205 reports of sexual exploitation in 2020, compared with 1,501 reports in 2019. The organization also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had vastly increased children’s internet screen time, putting them at greater risk of sexual exploitation. Child Focus reported that it had received 2,056 reports of child pornography, a 45 percent increase from 2019, through its stopchildporno.be website.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties included fines and prison terms and were commensurate with similar serious crimes.

In a report published in December 2020, the Interfederal Center for Migration (Myria) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to protect human traffickers and render cases of forced labor less visible. Myria reported a decreased capacity for detection because the social security labor inspection services were unable to safely complete field checks. The report also noted that it was often impossible to solicit support from police forces, which were overwhelmed with enforcing health and safety measures because of the pandemic. There was a significant drop in reports of cases of forced labor, from 3.15 cases per day in 2019 to 0.55 during 2020.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men, generally undocumented migrants, who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Men and women were subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age of employment is 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/study programs and work full time up to a limited number of hours during the school year. The Ministry of Employment regulated industries that employ juvenile workers to ensure that labor laws were followed; it occasionally granted waivers for children temporarily employed by modeling agencies and in the entertainment business. Waivers were granted on a short-term basis and for a clearly defined performance or purpose that had to be listed in the law as an acceptable activity. The law clearly defines, according to the age of the child, the maximum amount of time that may be worked daily and the frequency of performances. A child’s earnings must be paid to a bank account under the name of the child, and the money is inaccessible until the child reaches 18 years of age.

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources and inspections; such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws face penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses. On October 4, a court convicted Finns Party member of parliament Sebastian Tynkkynen on the charge of ethnic agitation in connection with Facebook posts he made in 2017 as part of a municipal election campaign. In the posts Tynkkynen published several pictures and texts implying that Muslim asylum seekers and immigrants were criminals preying on women and children. The court sentenced Tynkkynen to fines totaling 4,410 euros ($5,070) and demanded he delete the posts from his Facebook account.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On October 29, the deputy state prosecutor filed charges of disclosure of state secrets and attempted disclosure of state secrets against the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat’s reporters Laura Halminen and Tuomo Pietilainen, and editor of the political news department Kalle Silfverberg for an in-depth report on an intelligence facility located in Central Finland which was published in 2017. If convicted, the employees face a minimum of four months and maximum of four years in prison. The pretrial investigation found that the newspaper did not illegally acquire the documents, but police launched a separate investigation into how Helsingin Sanomat obtained the classified information.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation and aggravated defamation laws carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The law has a section relating to breaches of the sanctity of religion (blasphemy) that includes publicly blaspheming against God and for the purpose of offending, publicly defaming, or desecrating what is held to be sacred by a church or religious community. Conviction carries a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment and a monetary fine.

Nongovernmental Impact: On October 1, a law came into force that facilitates the prosecution of illegal threats made against journalists and researchers without the victim’s first filing a complaint. The legislative change is meant to protect journalists and public officials from targeted harassment and to expand freedom of expression for members of the media.

Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, Russia, and terrorism, reported harassment by private entities, including being targeted for defamation.

Journalist Jessikka Aro, who was the target of harassment for her reporting of Russian disinformation efforts, stated that she moved abroad for reasons of personal safety.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided subsidiary protection to 102 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered humanitarian residence permits to 125 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s national parliamentary election in 2019 and the presidential election in 2018 were considered free and fair. After an inspection revealed that procedures at a drive-in polling station had deviated from guidelines to ensure election secrecy, the parliamentary ombudsman asked the city of Espoo for a statement on ensuring election secrecy in exceptional voting arrangements.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The National Bureau of Investigation stated that the former director general of the National Audit Office, Tytti Yli-Viikari, and its former director, Mikko Koiranen, were suspected of aggravated abuse of office and breach of duty over salary payments to an agency employee without a duty to work and a possible illegal use of frequent flyer program flight points. Parliament fired Yli-Viikari; Koiranen was suspended from his duties.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, to fulfill a duty, or appropriately to implement fundamental human rights protections.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Center is an autonomous, independent institution administratively connected to the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The center’s functions include promoting the implementation of human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice. Responsibility for investigating employment discrimination rests solely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights. The Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations advocates for policy changes to improve integration.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Children

Birth Registration: A child generally acquires citizenship at birth through one or both parents. A child may also acquire citizenship at birth if the child is born in the country and meets certain other criteria, such as if the parents have refugee status in the country or if the child is not eligible for any other country’s citizenship. A local registration office records all births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, defining children as individuals younger than 16. Child neglect and physical or psychological violence carry penalties of up to six months in prison and up to two years in prison, respectively. Sexual abuse of a child carries a minimum penalty of four months’ imprisonment and a maximum of six years. The law defines rape of a minor (younger than 18) as aggravated rape. Rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of two years’ and a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Aggravated rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of four years’ and a maximum of 12 years’ imprisonment. In October a man was sentenced to four months in prison for physically assaulting his six-year-old son during a summer vacation. The boy’s older brother was a witness to the assault. The man had two previous convictions for assaulting the mother of the child. The prison sentence was converted to 120 hours of community service.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18; the law disallows marriage of individuals under that age. In the first half of the year, the National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking reported 19 new cases of forced marriage. In 2020 the system assisted 45 women and girls, a slight decrease from 2019, considered to have been subjected to forced marriage. Many of these marriages occurred when the victim was underage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The country prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for commercial sex. The law prohibits purchase of sexual services from minors and covers “grooming” (enticement of a child), including in a virtual environment or through mobile telephone contacts. Authorities enforced the law effectively.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law regards a person whose age cannot be determined, but who may reasonably be assumed to be younger than 18, as a child.

From January to June, there were 993 reported cases of child exploitation, compared with 838 cases reported during the same period in 2020. In June police passed to prosecutors a case involving a man suspected of multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, aggravated child rape, and the possession and dissemination of indecent images of children. As of September all of the more than 30 victims identified were girls between the ages of eight and 14.

In June a man was sentenced to four years and six months in prison for aggravated child sexual abuse, rape, and attempted rape committed against two minors, ages seven and nine, in 2019 and 2020. The perpetrator’s self-reporting the crimes and cooperating with the prosecution reduced the sentence by six months.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor depend on the severity of the crime and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Despite strong penalties for violations, some cases of persons subjected to conditions of forced labor in the country were reported.

Men and women working in the restaurant, cleaning, construction, and agriculture industries were the most likely to face conditions of forced labor. The sexual services sector, legal in certain circumstances, also saw incidences of sex trafficking and forced labor. From January 1 through June 30, Victim Support Finland, an NGO, supported 545 clients, including 98 new clients, who had been the victims of human trafficking, labor exploitation, or related crimes.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor but allows persons between the ages of 15 and 18 to enter into a valid employment contract as long as the work does not interrupt compulsory education. It provides that workers between the ages of 15 and 18 may not work after 10 p.m. or under conditions that risk their health and safety, which the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health defined as working with mechanical, chemical, physical, or biological hazards or bodily strain that may result from lifting heavy loads.

Penalties for violations of child labor regulations are commensurate with those for other similar crimes. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment effectively enforced child labor regulations. There were no reports of children engaged in work outside the parameters established by law.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

In April parliament adopted the controversial Comprehensive Security bill that aimed to change the legal framework for video surveillance, police body cameras, and the use of drones by law enforcement as well as broaden the authority of municipal police forces and better regulate private security firms. On May 20, the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional the provision of the law that makes publication of video of on-duty police officers illegal. The subject legislation had sparked massive street protests in late 2020 due to public perceptions it would limit freedom of the press.

On July 23, parliament adopted the government’s Upholding Republican Values bill creating a new offense for online hate speech that will make it possible to quickly detain a person who spreads personal information on social media regarding public-sector employees, elected officials, journalists, or a minor with the intent to harm them. Under the law such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 75,000 euros ($86,300). Offenses targeting other members of the population are punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800). The law also makes it easier for authorities to block or delist websites promoting hate speech and accelerate legal proceedings against them.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the country’s antidefamation and hate-speech laws.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment:

In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during “yellow vest” protests in 2018 and 2019. RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

In September 2020 Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions of the doctrine, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press, aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. In September 2020 RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

In its annual report released on April 20, RSF stated that conditions at violent protests, harassment during investigations, and concentrated media ownership were detrimental to press freedom in the country. RSF also criticized the inspector general of the IGPN police affairs bureau for summoning investigative journalists, which the RSF asserted could “threaten the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources, which are not sufficiently protected by French legislation.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not. On September 29, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, convicted of public defamation, with a 500 euro ($575) suspended fine as well as 1,000 euros ($1,150) in damages and 3,500 euros ($4,025) in procedural compensation, due to Melenchon’s 2016 comments on his blog calling a journalist an “unrepentant assassin.”

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns regarding police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental Impact: Authorities opened an investigation for attempted murder after a news photographer working for the newspaper LUnion, Christian Lantenois, was attacked and seriously injured while covering a reported surge of youth violence in the northeastern city of Reims on February 27. The victim was in a serious condition after being hit on the head by a projectile and spent one month in a coma. Senior government officials condemned the assault. On March 1, police arrested a 22-year-old individual, who was charged for aggravated attempted murder and placed in pretrial detention.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate parliamentary (National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In November 2020 former president Nicolas Sarkozy stood trial on corruption charges for trying to obtain confidential information through his lawyer from a judge. Prosecutors claimed he offered to help the judge obtain a well-paid post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling. On March 1, the Paris Criminal Court found Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence-peddling in the “Wiretapping Affair.” Sarkozy, his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and the now-retired magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, were each sentenced to three-year prison terms, with two years suspended. All three appealed the verdict.

In June 2020 the inspector general of the National Police placed six officers from a Paris unit into custody on charges of theft, drug possession, and extorting money from drug dealers. In July 2020 four of them were formally charged. The officers were part of the Security and Intervention Unit (CSI 93) in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, one of the poorest in the country. CSI 93, tasked with addressing urban violence and crime, had 17 preliminary investigations open against its officers for violations. In September 2020 the inspector general placed four other officers in custody on violence and forgery charges. On June 4, a Bobigny court sentenced two officers from the unit to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a five-year prohibition from serving in the police force over “violence,” “forgery,” and “use of forgery” charges. Two other officers received a four-month suspended prison sentence for falsifying documents related to a January 2020 arrest.

On July 17, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) announced that Rachida Dati, formerly minister of justice and the 2020 Republican Party candidate for mayor of Paris, was indicted on July 22 for corruption and abuse of power. Dati was accused of receiving 900,000 euros ($1.04 million) from Renault-Nissan from 2010 to 2012 to conduct illegal lobbying while serving as a member of the European Parliament. Dati said she would appeal the PNF’s decision.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNCDH advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

Following spring protests against police violence and racism, the National Assembly in September 2020 established an investigative committee to assess the ethics of police actions, practices, and law and order doctrine. On January 20, the committee presented the conclusions of its report and made 35 proposals aimed at re-establishing the balance between freedom to demonstrate, security of demonstrators, and protection of public order, which is the basis of the “relationship of trust between all citizens and the police.”

Following the April 14 Supreme Court ruling that the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis use prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, the National Assembly on July 22 established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair. The investigation will be able to summon police officers, witnesses, judges, ministers, and others to examine the case.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, kidnapping, child pornography, and human trafficking, including both child sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties were generally severe.

In 2019 the government presented a three-year plan with 22 measures to end violence against children. The measures included 400,000 euros ($460,000) in additional funding for responses to the “child in danger” emergency hotline and strengthened implementation of background checks on persons working in contact with children. Of the 22 points, approximately one-third had been implemented before the end of 2020 and the rest were still in progress.

According to a November 2020 French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) poll, one in 10 persons in the country reported experiencing sexual violence during childhood. In 80 percent of the cases, the abuses were committed by family members.

On April 15, parliament adopted a bill setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 15. Under the legislation, sex with children younger than 15 is considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners. The bill also makes it illegal for an adult to have sex with a relative younger than age 18.

On September 21, the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence Against Children (CIIVISE) established a telephone hotline and website for childhood victims to report abuse as well as direct them to relevant legal, psychological, or medical care providers. CIIVISE could be asked to report cases to the courts for prosecution. According to CIIVISE, 160,000 children were victims of sexual violence each year in the country, and 70 percent of the lawsuits involving such violence were closed with no further action.

On September 17, a Marseille police officer assigned to the juvenile unit was indicted and imprisoned for the rape and sexual assault of a minor in the Philippines. He was also charged with possession of child pornography following an internal investigation. The individual managed an association in the Philippines dedicated to aiding impoverished children and assisting in their adoption.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

On July 23, parliament adopted the bill Upholding Republican Values, which makes it illegal for medical professionals to issue virginity certificates, as the government considered those certificates usually preceded a forced marriage. The bill also allows city hall officials to interview couples separately when there were concerns the relationship may be a forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consent is 15, and sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 are illegal when the adult is in a position of authority over the minor. For rape of a minor younger than 15, the penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. Other sexual abuse of a minor younger than 15 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a substantial fine. The law provides that underage rape victims may file complaints up to 30 years after they turn 18.

The government enforced these laws effectively. The law also criminalizes child sex trafficking with a minimum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

On July 13, the junior minister for child protection, Adrien Taquet, stated that a report by experts in education, the judiciary, law enforcement, healthcare, and child protection NGOs noted a 70 percent increase in the number of minors in commercial sex in the previous five years, based on Ministry of Interior statistics. NGOs reported that approximately 7,000 to 10,000 minors were involved in commercial sex across the country. They were typically girls between the ages of 15 and 17 from all social classes, often vulnerable due to family situations, who were recruited via social media and did not self-identify as victims, according to the report.

On October 5, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, established in 2018 by the French Catholic Church, released its report on child abuse committed by Catholic priests in the country since the 1950s following a two-and-a-half-year investigation. The report found that 216,000 minors were victims of abuse from 1950 to 2020. Deceased victims were not counted, and according to the report, the number of victims could climb to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, are included. The report found that 80 percent of the victims were boys, typically between the ages of 10 and 13 and from a variety of social backgrounds. The commission president, Jean-Marc Sauve, said the abuse was systemic and the church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years.”

Displaced Children: By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the country’s child protection system. NGOs continued to assess that border police summarily returned unaccompanied migrant children attempting to enter via Italy, rather than referring them to the child protection system. On May 5, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement saying French police summarily expelled dozens of unaccompanied children to Italy each month in violation of domestic and international law.

According to HRW, “To enable the returns, the police frequently record on official documents different ages or birth dates than the children declared. The authorities have also summarily returned adults, including families with young children, without telling them they had a right to seek asylum in France,” the association wrote. HRW also conducted in-person and remote interviews between November 2020 and April with volunteers and staff of aid groups, lawyers, and others working on both sides of the France-Italy border. The HRW statement noted that many of these returns took place at the border crossing between the French town of Menton and the Italian town of Ventimiglia. According to the HRW statement, “Police take children and adults found to have entered France irregularly to the French border post at the Saint-Louis Bridge and direct them to walk across to the Italian border post.” In the first three weeks of February, volunteers recorded accounts from more than 60 unaccompanied children who said they had been pushed back from France. The staff also recorded at least 30 such accounts from children in each of the previous three months, as well as in March and April. In each case the children showed entry refusal forms on which French police wrote false birth dates. HRW said it viewed many of these forms, including for two Sudanese boys who gave their ages as 17 and 16, but whose ages French police listed as 27 and 20, respectively.

The government did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors who were at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering them medical, shelter, education, or other protection services. Traffickers exploited the large influx of unaccompanied minors who entered the country in recent years. Roma and unaccompanied minors were at risk for forced begging and forced theft.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government also provided some financial support to some NGOs that assist victims; however, NGOs criticized the amount of funding generally provided by the government to all NGOs for victim assistance as insufficient.

Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subjected to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates of the extent of forced labor among domestic workers. Forced labor also occurred in construction, small commerce, agriculture, fishing, and livestock and seasonal migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor in grape harvesting for wine production. In 2020 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 222 victims of forced labor from 45 different countries, 71 percent of whom were women.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.

The government effectively enforced labor laws and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including child sex trafficking (also see section 6, Children) and labor trafficking through forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Penalties for the use of child labor were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the French overseas collective of Wallis and Futuna.

Netherlands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the governments throughout the kingdom generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the press.

Freedom of Expression: It is a crime to “verbally or in writing or image deliberately offend a group of persons because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute in the Netherlands does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a substantial fine, or both. In the Dutch Caribbean, the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a fine. In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism.

On July 6, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders’ 2016 conviction for “group insult” against Moroccans at a 2014 political rally. Wilders had filed the appeal following the September 2020 appellate court’s decision to uphold the original 2016 conviction. As was the case in the 2016 conviction, Wilders was not punished.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on “hate speech” applied to media outlets but were only occasionally enforced.

Nongovernmental Impact: Several crime reporters and media outlets in the Netherlands faced threats, violence, and intimidation from criminal gangs. A June report commission by PersVeilig, a joint initiative by the Dutch Association of Journalists, the Dutch Association of Editors in Chief, and the national police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, found that eight out of 10 journalists surveyed had experienced some form of threat, mostly verbal, compared to six out of 10 in 2017. If required by circumstances, reporters receive temporary police protection.

Veteran investigative crime reporter Peter R. de Vries died on July 15, nine days after being shot in the head outside an Amsterdam television studio. Two suspects in De Vries’ killing remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end. A public prosecutor stated that De Vries was killed for advising a major witness testifying against accused drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi, rather than for his journalism. De Vries, however, had been threatened in the past for his investigative reporting. Following the July 6 shooting, television channel RTL canceled its July 10 live broadcast of its show RTL Boulevard, on which De Vries had been a guest just before being shot outside the studio, over threats against the show’s studio in Amsterdam. An investigation by the Dutch Safety Board into whether De Vries should have been assigned personal protection, which he himself had refused, was ongoing at year’s end.

On July 19, a court in London charged Mohammed Gohir Khan, a United Kingdom citizen, with plotting to kill Pakistani blogger Ahmad Waqass Goraya. Goraya resided in Rotterdam and was the victim of an assault and threats in 2020.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws in the entire kingdom provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the March parliamentary elections for seats in the Second Chamber of the Netherlands free and fair.

Observers considered the 2020 parliamentary elections on Sint Maarten, the March 19 parliamentary elections on Curacao, and the June 25 parliamentary elections on Aruba all free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and indigenous persons, in the political process in the kingdom, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The laws in the entire kingdom provide criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the governments generally implemented the laws effectively. There were isolated reports of corruption in the kingdom’s governments during the year.

Corruption: Investigations started against several former and sitting members of parliament on Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, and in some cases resulted in convictions and sentencing by the courts. In January former parliamentarian Chanel Brownbill lost his appeal to his conviction for tax fraud. In March 2020 a court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

In 2020 a large-scale investigation of 23 million intercepted messages among criminals on the encrypted Encrochat chat service brought to light corruption among police in the Netherlands, such as officers allegedly leaking police information to organized criminals through the chat service. In April media outlets reported that at least seven police officers were arrested on suspicion of corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Throughout the kingdom a variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A citizen of the Netherlands may bring any complaint before the national ombudsperson, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), the Commercial Code Council, or the Council of Journalism, depending on circumstances. The NIHR acted as an independent primary contact between the Dutch government and domestic and international human rights organizations.

Citizens of Curacao and Sint Maarten may bring any complaint before their national ombudsperson. All citizens of the Dutch Caribbean islands can direct complaints to their public prosecutors or to NGOs.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Children

Birth Registration: Throughout the kingdom citizenship can be derived from either the mother or the father, but not through birth on the country’s territory. Births are registered promptly.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse throughout the kingdom. A multidisciplinary task force in the Netherlands acts as a knowledge hub and facilitates interagency cooperation in combatting child abuse and sexual violence. The children’s ombudsman headed an independent bureau that safeguards children’s rights and calls attention to abuse. Physicians are required to report child abuse to authorities.

Aruba has a child abuse reporting center. On Curacao, while physicians were not required to report to authorities instances of abuse they encountered, hospital officials reported indications of child abuse to authorities. On Sint Maarten the law addresses serious offenses against public morality, abandonment of dependent persons, serious offenses against human life, and assault that apply to child abuse cases.

The Public Prosecutor Offices in the Dutch Caribbean provide information to victims of child abuse concerning their rights and obligations in the juvenile criminal law system.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 in all parts of the kingdom. In the Netherlands and on Aruba, there are two exceptions: if the persons concerned are older than 16 and the girl is pregnant or has given birth, or if the minister of justice and security in the Netherlands or the minister of justice on Aruba grants a dispensation based on the parties’ request.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Throughout the kingdom, the law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as production, possession, and distribution of child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The age of consent is 16 throughout the kingdom.

International Child Abductions: The kingdom 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 travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Section 7. Worker Rights

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Throughout the kingdom the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the governments enforced it. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor ranges from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Enforcement mechanisms and effectiveness varied across the kingdom. In the Netherlands the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment investigated cases of forced or compulsory labor. The inspectorate worked with various agencies, such as police, and NGOs to identify possible cases. After completion of an investigation, cases were referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. On the islands of the Dutch Caribbean, labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected worksites and locations for vulnerable migrants and indicators of trafficking. On Sint Maarten the lack of standard procedures for frontline responders to identify forced labor victims hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons.

Isolated incidents of forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included both domestic and foreign women and men, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in, among other sectors, agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking). Refugees and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, were vulnerable to labor trafficking.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In the Netherlands the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and there were no reports of child labor. The government groups children into three age categories for purposes of employment: 13 to 14; 15; and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are only allowed to work in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. As children become older, the scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increases, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs by age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children younger than 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Aruba’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. On Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between “children,” who are younger than 15, and “youngsters” who are between the ages of 15 and 18. Children who are 13 or older and who have finished elementary school may work, if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), is not physically or mentally taxing, and is not dangerous. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced child labor laws and policies with adequate inspections of possible child labor violations.

Curacao’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The island’s minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between “children” who are younger than 15 and “youngsters” who are between the ages of 15 and 18. Children who are 12 or older and who have finished elementary school may work, if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), is not physically or mentally taxing, and is not dangerous. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence, a fine, or both, which was adequate to deter violations.

Sint Maarten’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. On Sint Maarten, the law prohibits children younger than 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

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