Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; in the absence of a specific domestic violence law, general rape statutes applied to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was similarly prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence.
Spousal abuse and violence against women appeared widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s July 2015 Armenia Gender Assessment, gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, was one of the most critical problems faced by women in the country. Surveys by the government and women’s organizations confirmed the assessment that domestic violence was widespread, affecting between 25 to 66 percent of women (depending how broad the definition of domestic violence). Authorities did not effectively prosecute domestic violence.
Rape, spousal abuse, and domestic violence was underreported due to social stigma, the absence of female police officers and investigators, and at times police reluctance to act. According to local observers, most domestic violence was not reported because survivors were afraid of physical harm, apprehensive that police would return them to their husbands, or ashamed to disclose their family problems. There were also reports that police, especially outside of Yerevan, were reluctant to act in such cases and discouraged women from filing complaints. A majority of domestic violence cases were considered under the law as offenses of low or medium seriousness. In such instances a survivor might decline to press charges or perpetrators pressured them to withdraw charges or recant previous testimony.
Two local NGOs, the Women’s Support Center and the Women’s Rights Center, maintained domestic violence hotlines and three shelters and provided various services to the victim. The shelters were insufficient to meet the needs of all victims in the country. While international funding sustained the shelters, there were few realistic alternatives for sustainable, local funding.
Between 2010 and 2015, the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women recorded the killing of 30 women by an existing or former partner or a family member. According to a coalition study published in May, many of these women had sought help from family or state institutions before being killed. Local organizations maintained that police inaction and lenient sentences for partners convicted of abuse contributed to such deaths. During the year there were several instances in which courts reportedly issued minimal fines to husbands who had abused their wives for years.
On July 8, Vladik Martirosyan attacked his former wife, Taguhi Mansuryan, and her parents with an axe. Mansuryan’s mother died immediately, while Mansuryan and her father were hospitalized in serious condition. Martirosyan was previously convicted of domestic abuse but received a six-month suspended sentence.
Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. While recent public data on the extent of the problem was unavailable, observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace was widespread. According to the Asian Development Bank’s Armenia Gender Assessment, sexual harassment in the workplace was a factor limiting women’s job choices and opportunities for advancement.
Reproductive Rights: The law gives couples and individuals the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means necessary to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The husband and his parents often made decisions the spacing and timing of a couple’s children. Skilled attendance during childbirth was more accessible in large towns and other population centers where birthing facilities were located. There were reports that women, especially in rural or remote areas, had insufficient access to general and reproductive health care services. In its 2014 report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern regarding the limited availability of contraception.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status in the judicial system, 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 (see section 7.d.). Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches and at all levels of government (see section 3).
CESCR’s report expressed concern regarding deeply rooted patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes regarding the role of women and men in the family and in society. According to gender experts, the education system at all levels reinforced these attitudes. A 2015 World Bank study 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.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Statistical Service, the boy to girl sex-at-birth ratio decreased from 114 to 100 in 2014 and from 112 to 100 for the first half of the year. In May 2015 the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs approved a mid-term program to prevent sex selective abortions, establishing a working group to coordinate governmental efforts in this regard. According to the UN Population Fund, joint programs by the government and international and local NGOs to increase awareness of this problem accounted for the slightly positive improvement in the first half of the year.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Birth registration is the responsibility of parents, who must present the birth certificate to the hospital before checking out. Absence of a birth certificate could result in denial of public services.
Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade nine, in practice it was not universal. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children with disabilities and from socially vulnerable families faced systematic disadvantages in their access to schools and to the use of educational services (see Persons with Disabilities, below). Children from disadvantaged families and communities lacked access to early learning programs, despite government efforts to raise preschool enrollment. 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 eighth 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. Poor school infrastructure, particularly for preschools, including inadequate heating, water, and sanitation, remained a problem, with vast majority of school buildings not complying with basic safety standards.
Child Abuse: Although comprehensive statistics on violence against children were unavailable, such violence appeared to be a problem, especially for those living in institutions and in socially vulnerable families. Irregular exchanges of fire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces put children living in border areas at risk of injury or death. 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 became victims of violence, including sexual violence, and referrals were not mandatory for professionals working with children, excluding doctors.
The Women’s Resource Center noted an increase in sexual assault against minors and that the victims assisted were younger than in the previous years. The center also reported instances in which young victims were stigmatized, mocked in their communities, and expelled from school.
Early and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF, 7 percent of children (both boys and girls) married by age 18, the legal minimum age. Early marriage of girls was reportedly more frequent within the Yezidi communities, but the government took no measures to document the scale or address the practice.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Antitrafficking statutes prohibit the sexual exploitation of children and carry sentences of seven to 15 years in prison, depending on whether aggravating circumstances are present. Child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.
Institutionalized Children: The government maintained 36 residential facilities housing approximately 3,800 children, the majority of whom had at least one living parent. Experts believed corruption and poverty were the primary impediments to deinstitutionalization, since the government based its funding for institutions on the number of residents, and many families were unable to financially support their children’s needs. On average the government spent more than 5.46 billion drams ($13 million) annually to maintain such institutions. According to UNICEF and other observers, institutionalized children were at risk of physical and psychological violence by peers and by staff. UNICEF notified state officials regarding numerous violations of food and health standards, but authorities made few improvements. The government worked with UNICEF and NGOs, using foreign funds, to reduce the number of children in institutions and to establish community and family-based alternatives as well as inclusive schools for children with special needs.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be between 500 and 1,000 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 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 which also deterred persons with disabilities from voting, since these buildings often served as polling stations during elections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but failed to carry out this mandate effectively.
According to a 2012 UNICEF survey, one in five children with disabilities did not attend school. This was due to both discrimination and the lack of facilities to accommodate their needs. In 2014 CESCR reported that, in spite of state efforts to expand the network of inclusive schools, officials did not fully implement the policy. The law requires all public schools to become inclusive by 2025.
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.
According to official data, more than 90 percent of persons with disabilities who were able to work were unemployed. In July 2015 the government introduced mandatory quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities for both public and private firms employing more than 100 persons.
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. Disability status, in turn, determines eligibility for various social benefits.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to 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 attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained highly negative, with society generally viewing homosexuality as a medical affliction. 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.
According to an assessment during the year by the NGO New Generation, transgender individuals desiring to undergo sex change procedures faced obstacles that included negative attitudes, lack of information, and absence of legal regulations. This led to numerous medical and other problems tied to the administration of hormones without medical supervision, underground surgeries, and problems obtaining passports and documenting a change in gender identity.
In May the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) published its annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI persons for 2015. According to the review, leading political party representatives and media affiliated with authorities employed “hate speech” toward members of the LGBTI community. Antigay rhetoric intensified during public discussions prior to the December 2015 referendum on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. According to the review, LGBTI persons experienced physical violence and threats of violence, blackmail, and harassment. Police were unresponsive to reports of such abuses and at times themselves mistreated LGBTI individuals, following and harassing them. According to the review, authorities did not prosecute a single hate crime complaint filed with police in 2015. LGBTI persons were also reluctant to report violations to relevant bodies due to fears of exposure and additional discriminatory treatment because of their complaint.
According to media reports, during a November 6 parliamentary discussion, three members of parliament (MP) from the ruling RPA, including the deputy speaker of the parliament, engaged in anti-LGBTI rhetoric, with one MP making a joke encouraging physical violence against LGBTI individuals.
According to PINK Armenia, in May a Karin folk dance group instructor, Harut Baghdasaryan, expelled Armenian-American dancer Kyle Khanidkyan after finding out that he was gay. According to media reports, the instructor told Khanidkyan that he did not belong to the “nation,” that he was “not Armenian,” and had no right to dance Armenian dances because he was gay.
Elements of media disseminated anti-LGBTI propaganda. LGBTI activists as well as human rights defenders working in the field received threats via social media and to be targets of hate speech.
Openly gay men were exempt from military service, purportedly because of concern that fellow soldiers would abuse them. An exemption, however, required a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual had a mental disorder; this information appeared in the individual’s personal identification documents and was an obstacle to employment and to 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
In the most recent demographic and health survey (conducted in 2010), approximately 86 percent of women and 84 percent of men reported having discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS.
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.
The NGO Real World Real Life registered cases of men infected with HIV/AIDS during migrant work abroad who hid their condition from their wives. Having infected their wives, these men reportedly forbade them from seeking help and medication, although the men themselves underwent treatment. The NGO maintained that this was a manifestation of both domestic abuse and the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. A January 24 story on the Medialab.am website discussed the plight of an HIV/AIDS-infected pregnant woman who experienced significant discrimination from medical personnel throughout her pregnancy, including segregation from other patients and the unwillingness of medical personnel to provide her medical assistance while she was giving birth.