Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The government generally enforced the law against rape. The penal code does not address spousal rape. There was no comprehensive database on the incidence of sexual violence, but NGO groups claimed rape continued to be underreported. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is illegal, but consensual sex between adults was not prosecuted.
Rape accompanied by the use or threat of violence or threats with a weapon are punishable by death. For other cases of rape, the prescribed punishment is life imprisonment. If the victim is under the age of 20, penalties can be more severe (see section 6, Children). Nonconsensual sexual conduct not meeting the definition of rape, such as sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, and molestation, may be prosecuted as “indecent assault,” which is punishable by up to six years in prison or 12 years if the victim is under the age of 18. In cases of nonviolent sexual assault committed against a minor, charges against the accused will be dropped if the victim’s parents consent to marriage, provided the marriage lasts at least two years. Human rights organizations strongly objected to this practice. The punishment is extended to life imprisonment if committed with weapons, threats, or detention or in cases where the victim was mutilated, disfigured, or if the victim’s life was endangered. The sentence is five years in prison for “indecent assault” attempted or committed without violence or aggression against a child, which is extended to 10 years if the perpetrator is related to the victim or holds a position of authority over the victim.
Rape remained a taboo and underreported subject. Cultural pressures often dissuaded victims from reporting sexual assault. Convictions for sexual violence were far below the number of actual incidents. A March 2015 study by UGTT’s National Commission of Working Women indicated that 32 percent of all women experienced some kind of physical violence, 29 percent experienced psychological violence or harassment, 16 percent suffered sexual violence or exploitation, and 7 percent experienced economic violence, including financial exploitation, extortion, or deprivation of money or the necessities of life. A large portion of violence against women occurred within marriage, according to the study. A 2015 Amnesty International report cited several reasons for underreporting and lack of prosecution for rape and sexual assault, including evidentiary standards that place a high burden on the victim, lack of trust in police and the judicial system, and an inadequate legal definition of sexual assault.
Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem.
There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Victims received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country. There was a growing demand for services, but social stigma kept many women from utilizing existing resources.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a problem, although there was no data to measure its extent. The law requires victims of sexual harassment seeking redress to file a complaint in criminal court, where authorities then investigate the allegations. According to the criminal code, the penalty for sexual harassment is one year in prison and a fine of 3,000 dinars ($1,300). Civil society groups criticized the law on harassment as too vague and susceptible to abuse.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the means and information to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to a 2016 study by the Health and Human Rights Journal, the country made slow progress in incorporating reproductive rights into its national reproductive health policy. The study highlighted limited accessibility to reproductive health services, low quality maternal health-care services, and discriminatory practices in some regions of the country. The UN Population Fund reported in 2014 that only 10 percent of the primary health-care centers in the northwest, central west and southeast regions of the country provided basic reproductive health services. Family planning had been provided by mobile clinics due to limited infrastructure in rural areas, but recently there was a significant decrease in the number and coverage of these clinics. The World Health Organization reported that single women were discriminated against for treatment of sexually transmitted infections and accessing contraceptives.
Discrimination: The law and constitution explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Women faced societal rather than statutory barriers to their economic and political participation. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion judges drew upon interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance disputes.
Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or keep them separate. Customary law based on sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside their religion. Sharia requires men, but not women, to provide for their families. Because of this expectation, in some instances sharia inheritance law provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to those given sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to a third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.
Female citizens can transmit citizenship on an equal basis with male citizens. In November 2015 parliament amended a law that had previously prohibited a mother from traveling outside the country with minor children without written permission from the father. Under the new amendment, there is no discrimination between a mother and father regarding passport application and authorization to leave the country.
The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child under 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years. The government defended the law as allowing women to balance family and professional life, but some women’s rights advocates believed treating women and men differently under the law infringed women’s rights. Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, in particular in managerial positions. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: The ratio of boy-to-girl births was 107 to 100. There was no information on any government efforts to address this imbalance.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth from one’s parents, and the law provides for a period of 10 days to register a newborn. Thereafter, parents have 30 days to explain why they failed to register a newborn and complete the registration.
Child Abuse: A government report cited 601 reported cases of violence against children as of July, triple the number reported in 2013. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood designated 21 psychologists to treat victims and announced its collaboration with civil society to provide increased services for child victims in shelters in Sousse, Sfax, and Tunis. According to the Minister of Women, Family, and Childhood, the rise in the number of reported cases was partially due to an increased willingness of victims to report abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18, but the courts may, in certain situations, authorize the marriage of persons younger than 18 upon the request and approval of both parents.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography. Anyone who has sexual relations with a girl under age 10 is subject to the death penalty. Anyone who has sexual intercourse with a girl between the ages of 10 and 15 is subject to six years’ imprisonment. If the victim is over 15 and under 20, the penalty is five years’ imprisonment, unless the individuals are married. The penal code states that if a man has consensual sex with a female minor, he can avoid legal consequences by marrying the victim (see section 6, Women). The country was not a destination for child sex tourism; however, the International Organization for Migration reported some children were victims of sexual exploitation through prostitution, although the extent of the problem was not known.
In July the Ministry of Women, Family, and Children announced that cases involving child victims of violence, which includes sexual abuse, had tripled since 2013. According to data provided by local child protection agencies, instances of recorded abuse increased from 262 in 2013 to 601 as of November. Thirty-three percent of victims of sexual abuse reported direct sexual molestation, while 51 percent reported sexual harassment without direct sexual contact.
International Child Abductions: The country is not party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
An estimated 1,500 Jews lived in the country. In March 2015, vandals destroyed the grave of 18th-century Jewish sage Rabbi Masseoud Elfassi in Tunis. Media reported that motives for the vandalism were unknown but speculated it was the work of looters. After the incident President Caid Essebsi increased security around the cemetery and other Jewish sites and promised a European rabbinical body he would firmly protect the Jewish community and its institutions.
On May 25, an annual Jewish pilgrimage took place on the island of Djerba. Local media estimated participation at 2,000-3,000 persons. The event took place without incident and included the participation of several government ministers. Leaders in the Jewish community and government publicly praised the pilgrimage as a sign of the excellent relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities.
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 or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. It mandates that at least 1 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it. There were no statistics on patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities, and individual cases of employment discrimination against persons with disabilities were rarely reported.
Since 1991, the law requires all new public buildings to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and the government generally enforced the law. Persons with physical disabilities did not have access to most buildings built before 1991, and most older buildings have still not been made accessible. The government did not ensure access to information and communications.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The government issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, free and priority medical services, free and preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts. The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. There were approximately 300 government-administered schools for children with disabilities, five schools for blind students, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. The Ministry of Social Affairs managed centers in Tunis, Kairouan, Nabeul, and Sfax that provided short- and long-term accommodation and medical services to persons with disabilities who lacked other means of support.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes sodomy. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs, authorities occasionally use the law against sodomy to detain and question persons about their sexual activities and orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. LGBTI-focused NGOs reported at least 36 known cases of arrests under the sodomy law as of September, although the government does not keep official statistics on arrests under the law. Human rights organizations and LGBTI-focused NGOs said that police and the courts often ordered men suspected of sodomy to take a rectal exam in order to collect evidence, a practice which human rights organizations and the UN Committee Against Torture strongly denounced.
In December 2015 six men from Rakkada were sentenced to three years each for sodomy, after being forced to undergo a rectal examination. One of the men was sentenced to an additional six months for an “attack on public morals” after police found a video clip on his computer. The court also banished the men from their town for five years following their release from prison. On March 3, a Sousse court of appeals upheld the men’s guilty verdict but reduced the sentences to one month and a fine of 400 dinars ($175) each. The judge eliminated the banishment provision. The men told media they had been exposed to sexual abuse and harassment by prisoners and prison guards during their detention.
Associations advocating for LGBTI rights organized campaigns against the criminalization of sodomy and forced medical examinations, which quickly gained popularity on social media and garnered international media attention.
Anecdotal evidence suggested LGBTI individuals faced increasing discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats, although societal stigma and fear of prosecution under sodomy laws discouraged individuals from reporting problems, according to a Euromed report released in September. Due to societal intolerance of same-sex sexual relationships, LGBTI individuals were discreet, and there was no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, access to education, or health care, although the Euromed report cited widespread anecdotal evidence of systemic denial of services to LGBTI individuals due to their sexual orientation. LGBTI advocacy work was conducted by several small organizations formed after 2011.
In May several LGBTI associations organized a small, discreet gay pride reception in Tunis. Associations also organized events and public demonstrations to mark the International Day against Homophobia in May.
On April 13, a well-known actor on a popular national television show declared that homosexuality was a “sickness” and said he “despised” gay individuals. Another celebrity repeated these comments publicly soon afterwards. A homophobic social media campaign followed, which included alleged members of security forces posting antigay messages on social media outlets. Several businesses placed signs on their windows refusing service to gay customers. During a Friday sermon on May 3, an imam in Sfax called for gay individuals to be put to death by “throwing them from a high place and stoning them.”