Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 10 years in prison. Rape of a victim under 14 years of age is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied.
Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives. NGO Keik Okara maintained a shelter for victims of domestic violence that was supported by the OSCE. Keik Okara continued to operate a domestic violence hotline and provided free legal consultations and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence. The NGO also organized awareness-raising seminars on domestic violence. One official women’s group in Ashgabat and several informal groups in other regions assisted victims of domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and reports suggested sexual harassment existed in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Persons 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 information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Some married women opposed the use of contraception. According to the UN Population Fund, however, during the year there was a 15 percent unmet need for women who wanted but did not have access to a modern method of family planning.
Discrimination: By law women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and some of these laws were not consistently enforced. Some employers allegedly gave preference to men to avoid losing employees due to pregnancy or child-care responsibilities. Women were underrepresented in the upper levels of government-owned economic enterprises and were concentrated in the health-care, education, and service professions. The government restricted women from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs. The government did not acknowledge, address, or report on discrimination against women. There were no reports of discrimination in areas such as marriage, divorce, and child custody.
Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship from his/her parents. A child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.
From 2010 to 2015, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) State of the World’s Children report, 96 percent of children had their births registered.
Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through grades 10 or 11, depending on what year a child started school. There were reports that, in some rural communities, parents removed girls from school as young as age nine to work at home.
Child Abuse: In 2015 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to improve by 2020 its collection of data on children’s rights, remove restrictions on civil society organizations working on children’s rights, guarantee children’s access to internet and international media, create a mechanism to which children deprived of liberty in all areas can address complaints, consider creation of a centralized system for registration of adoptions, and ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The country had not approved a national action plan for children’s rights. The government did not provide substantive answers to the UN committee’s previous requests for updated information about mechanisms for protecting children in vulnerable situations from discrimination, the implementation of measures prohibiting corporal punishment, children’s access to potable water and adequate sanitation, and what had been done to improve the quality of education for children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. According to UNICEF’s 2014 report, State of the World’s Children, 7 percent of marriages involved minors.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children. An Interpol report noted the criminal code “enacts criminal liability for involvement of minors into prostitution.”
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.
There were an estimated 200-250 Jews, mainly in Ashgabat, but there was no organized Jewish community. Human rights advocacy organization Crude Accountability reported several instances of anti-Semitic language on online pro-government news portals and in comment sections of online opposition news sources in reference to civil society activists and opposition journalists.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. Despite the law, persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and denial of work, education, and access to health care and other state services because of strong cultural biases.
The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, but the assistance was inadequate to meet basic needs. The government considered persons with disabilities who received subsidies as being employed and therefore ineligible to compete for jobs in the government, the country’s largest employer.
Some students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no qualified teachers, and facilities were not accessible for persons with disabilities. Although the law requires universities to provide specialized entrance exams to applicants with disabilities, students with disabilities experienced difficulties in gaining admission to universities. The government placed children with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities, in boarding schools where they were to receive education and, if able to work, employment. In practice, however, the schools provided neither. Special schools for those with sensory disabilities existed in the larger cities. Boarding schools with rehabilitation centers for persons with disabilities existed in each province and in Ashgabat. The government operated six combined education and rehabilitation centers, one in each of the five provinces and one in the capital. Each center was designed to serve 420 students with disabilities.
Although the law requires new construction projects to include facilities that allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings remained inaccessible. A lack of consistent accessibility standards resulted in some new buildings with inappropriately designed access ramps. The Ministry of Social Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry provided venues and organizational support for activities conducted by NGOs that assist persons with disabilities. The law provides for the right to vote for all, including for persons with disabilities.
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens. Minority groups tried to register as NGOs to have legal status to conduct cultural events, but no minority group succeeded in registering during the year.
The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. The government required ministry employees to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of professional subjects in Turkmen, and the government dismissed those employees who failed the examination. The government dedicated resources to provide Turkmen instruction for non-Turkmen speakers only in primary and secondary schools.
Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. In some cases applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their ethnicity going back three generations. Because the government often targeted non-Turkmen first for dismissal when government layoffs occurred, disproportionately few non-Turkmen held government positions.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sexual contact between men is illegal under a section of the criminal code on pederasty, with punishment of up to two years in prison and the possible imposition of an additional two- to five-year term in a labor camp. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for repeated acts of pederasty, homosexual acts with juveniles, or the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Society does not accept transgender individuals, and the government provided no legal protection or recognition of their gender identity.
There were reports of detention, threats, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. No official information was available regarding discrimination against LGBTI individuals in employment, housing, statelessness, access to education, or health care. Since same-sex sexual activity and nonconforming gender identity were taboo subjects in the country’s traditional society, observers noted social stigma prevented reporting of incidents.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports of discrimination and violence against some religious minority groups, many of which the government officially referred to as “sects,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government generally perpetrated or condoned these actions.