last updated September 2014
Population (estimated, as of 2011): 5,472,000
Sex ratio (males per 100 females, as of 2012): 94.6
Life expectancy at birth (f/m, for 2010-2015): 79.5/71.9
Education: Primary-secondary gross enrollment ratio (f/m per 100, 2006-2012): 93.3/92.9
Education: Female third-level students (% of total, 2006-2012): 59.8
Seats held by women in national parliaments (% of total, as of 2012): 17.3
Participation of adult women in the labor force (% of total, as of 2011): 51.2%
Source: U.N. Statistics Division
In 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into Slovakia (or the Slovak Republic) and the Czech Republic.[i] Slovakia was accepted into the European Union (EU) as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.[ii] Slovakia is now a multi-party parliamentary democracy, led by a prime minister and single-chamber 150-member parliament (the National Council of the Slovak Republic), as well as a president with limited powers.[iii] Parliament members are elected to four-year terms, and the president is elected by direct popular vote to a five-year term, with eligibility for a second term.[iv] The president typically appoints the leader of the majority party in parliament as prime minister.[v]
The government of Slovakia has recognized violence against women as “the most extreme violation of women’s human rights.”[vi] However, the government has also acknowledged that Slovakia lacks a coordinated national approach to violence prevention or victim protection and assistance.[vii] While the government is taking preliminary steps to address these gaps through the adoption of a comprehensive plan for the elimination and prevention of violence against women (2014-2019),[viii] Slovakia has yet to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).[ix] The Istanbul Convention entered into force on August 1, 2014.[x]
Article 12 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic declares that “[b]asic rights and liberties on the territory of the Slovak Republic are guaranteed to everyone regardless of sex.”[xi] Slovakia has also enacted several laws to promote gender equality and prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. In 2008, the Slovakian government passed the amended Act No. 365/2004 Coll. on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas and Protection against Discrimination (Anti-discrimination Act).[xii] The Anti-discrimination Act prohibits direct or indirect discrimination based on sex, harassment, sexual harassment, or victimization of a person based on sex in the provision of social security, healthcare, goods and services including housing, education, and employment.[xiii] Victims of discrimination may seek civil judicial relief including injunctive relief, equitable remedies, and monetary damages.[xiv]
The Anti-discrimination Act gives the Slovakian National Centre for Human Rights responsibility for monitoring compliance, collecting discrimination data, providing legal aid to victims, and developing educational programs.[xv] The Slovakian Labour Code contains a provision prohibiting employment discrimination, and refers directly to definitions of discrimination in the Anti-Discrimination Act.[xvi] In 2012, the Slovakian parliament amended the definition of indirect discrimination in the Anti-discrimination Act to include “threats” of discrimination, in compliance with EU requirements.[xvii] The Anti-Discrimination Act was last amended in 2013 to allow the Slovakian government to pursue gender-based affirmative actions.[xviii]
Since 1999, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family has included a division responsible for promoting equality. The division has been known as the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities since 2007.[xix] According to its website, the Department is tasked with “ensuring the development and implementation of state policy of gender equality and equal opportunities and coordination of a national system of gender equality and equal opportunities.”[xx] This includes helping the Slovakian government comply with various international conventions on gender equality and the treatment of women, including EU and UN obligations.[xxi] The Department administers grants for projects promoting gender equality[xxii] and works to raise public awareness of women’s issues.[xxiii]
In 2011, the Slovakian government created the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality.[xxiv] The Government Council is responsible for advising on and coordinating human rights efforts through various committees, including the Committee on Gender Equality, which is overseen by the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities.[xxv] The Committee on Gender Equality has working groups on the promotion of women’s interests in the economy and labor market, education, and healthcare, as well as a specific group on eliminating violence against women.[xxvi]
Slovakia developed a National Strategy for Gender Equality for the Years 2009 – 2013, in which it describes weaknesses in Slovakia’s implementation of anti-discrimination measures and proposes coordinated solutions.[xxvii] A new National Strategy for 2014 – 2019 has reportedly been developed.[xxviii]
Despite these various government initiatives and legal protections, gender discrimination remains a problem in Slovakia.[xxix] Many women report being fired from their jobs upon getting pregnant, and the pay gap between men and women remains at 25 percent.[xxx] Slovakian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have reported an increase in this wage gap over the past decade.[xxxi]
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) expressed its concern regarding discrimination against, and marginalization of, Roma women living in Slovakia. [xxxii] The Committee also expressed concerns about the complexity and changeability of gender equality initiatives within the Slovakian government, as well as the lack of institutional capacity to address gender issues at all levels of government.[xxxiii]
Slovakia has both civil and criminal laws on domestic violence. Police have the power to exclude violent offenders from a “shared dwelling” for a 48-hour period after a domestic violence report,[xxxiv] and a court may issue a longer-term protective order if repeat offenses are reasonably anticipated.[xxxv] As of 2010, the 48-hour emergency protective “clock” will not start running until the next working day; this means that if the police exclude a perpetrator from his home on a weekend day or holiday, he will be barred from the home during the remainder of the weekend or holiday, as well as the next two working days, allowing courts, police and prosecutors more time to consider a victim’s case and whether additional measures are necessary to protect the victim or prosecute the offender.[xxxvi]
Slovakia has criminalized domestic violence since 1999.[xxxvii] As currently written, Section 208 of the Criminal Code of the Slovak Republic prohibits “Battering a Close Person and a Person Entrusted into one’s Care.”[xxxviii] Section 208 defines prohibited violence broadly to include a wide range of physical, emotional, economic and psychological abuse, such as “repeated beating, kicking, hitting,” “emotional extortion,” “continuous stalking [or] threatening,” and “repeated and unjustified denial of food, rest or sleep.”[xxxix] Persons convicted under Section 208 face strict penalties of 3 to 25 years in prison, depending on the level of harm caused, the number of persons harmed, the perpetrator’s intent, and whether the perpetrator is a repeat offender.[xl] Section 127 of the Criminal Code broadens the definition of “close person” for the purposes of Section 208 beyond immediate family members (spouses, siblings and children) to include ex-spouses and persons living with the perpetrator in a shared household.[xli]
Prosecutors may continue to pursue a domestic violence case even if a woman drops her charges against a perpetrator.[xlii] Courts may punish offenders who violate protective orders with up to two years in prison.[xliii] Additionally, Section 199 of the Criminal Code prohibits rape and does not excuse rape occurring within marriage, or against an ex-spouse or other intimate partner.[xliv] Rape and other forms of sexual assault against a “protected person,” which includes a spouse, ex-spouse or other intimate partner or child, are treated as aggravating factors and carry longer prison sentences.[xlv]
State Policy on Domestic Violence
In 2004, the Slovakian government approved a National Strategy for Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women and in Families, to improve the country’s response to violence against women.[xlvi] This strategy was followed by a series of national action plans outlining definitive steps toward ending violence against women, the most recent of which is the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women for the years 2014 – 2019.[xlvii]
The 2014-2019 National Action Plan (“NAP”) notes that despite efforts over the past decade, Slovakia still fails to meet international standards for a coordinated national response to violence against women.[xlviii] Slovakia’s current NAP promises to allocate at least EUR 12 million toward a coordinated national response to eliminating violence against women through 2019.[xlix] Proposed efforts include the development of more comprehensive domestic violence laws and programs, a significant increase in victim services, professional trainings on violence against women, and awareness-raising efforts.[l] Many of these proposals also respond to concerns raised by the CEDAW Committee in its 2009 Concluding Observations on Slovakia.[li]
Slovakia was one of the first European countries to sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (“Istanbul Convention”) in 2011; however, Slovakia’s parliament has yet to ratify the Convention.[lii] The Istanbul Convention requires States Parties to take a number of steps toward ending violence against women, many of which are included in Slovakia’s current National Action Plan, including providing training for professionals, conducting awareness campaigns, working with NGOs, and incorporating information on violence against women into education systems and the media.[liii] However, the government concluded that it must do more to prepare the country for ratification of the Istanbul Convention, including establishing a national or central coordinating body on violence against women.[liv] In 2014, the Slovakian government reported to the CEDAW Committee that ratification of the Istanbul Convention remains a top national priority.[lv]
Prevalence of Domestic Violence and Implementation of Policies
Despite strong legal protections and proactive state policies, women’s rights activists in Slovakia argue that the government has failed to properly implement and enforce its laws prohibiting domestic violence, and that domestic violence remains largely hidden and under-reported due to social stigmas.[lvi] In its most recent Concluding Observations on Slovakia in 2009, the CEDAW Committee expressed its concern that “the current legislation on violence may not be fully comprehensive and specific to address all forms of violence against women.”[lvii] The CEDAW Committee also noted the “high rate of violence against women and girls, including homicides resulting from domestic violence.”[lviii] The Committee urged Slovakia to place a much higher priority on combatting violence against women and girls.[lix]
A study conducted by the Slovakian government in 2008 indicated that approximately one in five Slovakian women experienced violence at the hands of her current partner, and 27.9 percent experienced violence perpetrated by a past partner.[lx] Slovakian authorities reported 321 domestic abuse cases between January and November 2013.[lxi] In 2012, the Slovakian government recorded 162 cases of domestic violence under Section 208, down from 247 in 2009.[lxii]
Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence
According to the Slovakian government, “[t]he establishment of shelters and the provision of support services meeting European standards for women experiencing violence or the threat of violence was one of the uncompleted tasks in the previous NAP for the Prevention and Elimination of violence against Women 2010–2013.”[lxiii] Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) reports that Slovakia had only two facilities identified as women’s shelters with approximately 31 places available as of 2013.[lxiv] The country has one national domestic violence helpline, which is run privately and is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, but is not free of charge.[lxv]
The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Families reported that Slovakia had 238 places for women at risk of violence that met the Council of Europe’s minimum standards for 2013, but it recognized that even with this number of spaces, 457 more specialized shelter spots were needed to comply with international standards, as well as a need for 41 more domestic violence counselling centers.[lxvi] In its current NAP, the Ministry committed to creating a free national hotline, a network of social services involving at least 20 more counselling centers, police training, and more, by 2019.[lxvii]
Public Awareness Campaigns
Women’s NGOs initiated and carried out the first campaign to raise awareness about violence against women in 2001: “Fifth Woman,” calling attention to the fact that “every fifth woman is battered.”[lxviii] Due to this campaign, the issue of domestic violence became more visible in the public eye.
The Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities of the Slovak Republic conducted its first campaign, “Stop Violence Against Women,” from 2007 to 2008.[lxix] It still maintains a website that provides resources for victims as well as professionals such as teachers, police, and those in health care who may interact with victims of violence.[lxx]
Section 199 of the Criminal Code of the Slovak Republic prohibits rape through force, the threat of force, or taking advantage of “a woman’s helplessness,” and punishes perpetrators with 5 to 25 years imprisonment.[lxxi] Section 200 prohibits sexual violence, which is defined the same way and carries the same sentences as rape, except that it includes non-intercourse sexual activity.[lxxii] Section 201 and 202 prohibit sexual abuse and exploitation of minors.[lxxiii]
Sentences for rape and sexual violence are greater for perpetrators “acting in a more serious manner,” and for crimes committed with a specific intent, or against a protected person (including a “close person” such as a spouse, ex-spouse, child or person living in a shared household), or against a woman in custody, including in prison.[lxxiv] Sentences are further escalated for sexual crimes that result in serious harm or death to the victim, or are committed “under a crisis situation.”[lxxv] As of July 2013, victims of rape, sexual assault and similar violent crimes may apply for compensation for any mental and physical harm suffered.[lxxvi]
According to WAVE, more than 25 percent of Slovakian women have reported experiencing sexual violence by a previous partner.[lxxvii] The 2013 US State Department Country report on Human Rights Practices for Slovakia states that the government of Slovakia reported 87 rapes and 56 cases of sexual violence in 2013.[lxxviii] In 2012, the Slovakian government recorded 51 rapes, down from 101 in 2009, and 40 cases of sexual violence in 2012, down from 64 in 2009.[lxxix] Slovakian NGOs have expressed continued concern that sexual violence is underreported in Slovakia, due to cultural and social pressures.[lxxx]
There are no specific shelters or centers for victims of sexual violence in Slovakia.[lxxxi] The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Families has recognized the need to build crisis centers that specialize in sexual assaults in order to better assist victims.[lxxxii]
Slovakia’s Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits sexual harassment as a form of discrimination, and defines it as “verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is aimed at or can cause a violation of the dignity of a person and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”[lxxxiii] Previous versions of the law defined only harassment.[lxxxiv]
Victims of sexual harassment can bring a claim under the Anti-Discrimination Act in civil court for injunctive relief, restitution and even punitive damages, although courts are reluctant to award non-pecuniary damages.[lxxxv] The law provides for a burden-shifting protocol, in which the accused is presumed guilty if the claim is reasonable and thus, the accused has the burden of proving that discrimination did not take place.[lxxxvi] Victims of harassment may contact the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights for assistance, as the Centre is charged with arranging legal aid for victims under the law.[lxxxvii] Victims of harassment in the workplace may also file a complaint with their employer, who is obliged to promptly resolve the issue under the law.[lxxxviii]
In 2011, Slovakia amended criminal provisions on “dangerous harassment” in Section 360 of the Criminal Code (“Serious Threats”) to penalize stalking, or long-term harassment that puts a woman in fear for her life or health, or that of her children, or that “significantly impairs” her quality of life.[lxxxix] Other forms of sexual harassment, in employment or public life, are not criminalized in Slovakia.
Trafficking in Women
Women make up the majority of trafficking victims in Slovakia, and are often trafficked to other European countries for prostitution.[xc] Roma women and girls living in Slovakia are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking due to their marginalized status in society.[xci]
The Slovakian government has developed several national strategies for combatting human trafficking since 2005, the most recent of which is the National Program on the Fight Against Trafficking in Human Beings for the Period of 2011 – 2014.[xcii] The National Program focuses on four core areas: coordination and cooperation of stakeholders; prevention of trafficking; support and protection of trafficking victims; and criminal investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.[xciii] The State Secretary of the Ministry for the Interior serves as the National Coordinator for the Area of the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings, and several multi-departmental and expert working groups help implement the National Program’s initiatives.[xciv]
Section 179 of the Criminal Code of the Slovak Republic prohibits trafficking in human beings.[xcv] It addresses a wide array of coercive tactics and specifically mentions trafficking for “prostitution or another form of sexual exploitation, including pornography.”[xcvi] Consensual trafficking of individuals under 18 is specifically prohibited.[xcvii] Perpetrators face a sentence ranging from four years to life in prison under the law,[xcviii] although the U.S. State Department reports sentences as low as two years for convicted offenders.[xcix] The law provides for harsher prison sentences if the perpetrator obtains any additional benefit from the act of trafficking; the victim is a protected person; or if the perpetrator has a specific intent, acts “in a more serious manner,” causes great bodily harm or death, or is a member of a criminal organization.[c]
The Criminal Code was amended in 2013 to include abduction and forced marriage as forms of trafficking in order to comply with the 2011 European Parliament and Council directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings.[ci]
According to the U.S. Department of State, Slovakia complies with the minimum anti-trafficking standards and has improved its identification of victims, awareness efforts, number of investigations, targeted efforts for the Roma population, and training for police officers and social workers.[cii] However, prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators remains weak.[ciii] Slovakia convicted 14 human trafficking perpetrators in 2013, up from 11 in 2012.[civ] The vast majority received suspended prison sentences of less than five years and financial penalties with payment plans, providing little deterrence.[cv] Prosecutors relied on victim testimony without making adequate attempts to secure further evidence.[cvi]
While Slovakia’s anti-trafficking law does not specifically protect victims from prosecution, there were no reports of prosecuting victims for trafficking-related crimes in 2013. [cvii] An anti-trafficking hotline is provided by the International Organization for Migration with financial support from the government.[cviii] Between Slovakian officials and NGOs, 55 victims of trafficking were identified in 2013, up from 37 in 2012.[cix] Thirty victims, 15 of which were sex trafficking victims, received care at government-funded facilities providing shelter, legal aid, and counselling.[cx] The length of a victim’s care depends upon her cooperation with the government’s trafficking investigation: care is cut off at 180 days if the victim stops participating in the investigation.[cxi] NGOs providing victim services faced uncertain funding in 2013 in light of governmental reorganization, hindering the level of care they were able to provide to trafficking victims.[cxii] NGOs also reported decreased cooperation from government entities.[cxiii]
[i] BBC News Europe, “Slovakia Profile,” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe17847682 (accessed March 18, 2014); see also, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “World Factbook: Slovakia,” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/lo.html (accessed June 20, 2014).
[v] U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “World Factbook: Slovakia,” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/lo.html (accessed June 20, 2014).
[vi] Slovak Republic, “National Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women
2014 – 2019,” 1 (2013).
[ix] Council of Europe, “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
CETS No.: 210, Status as of: 5/11/2014,” http://www.conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ChercheSig.asp?NT=210&CM=&DF=&CL=ENG (accessed November 5, 2014).
[xi] Constitution of the Slovak Republic, Art. 12.
[xii] “Act No. 365/2004 Coll. on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas and Protection against Discrimination,” last amended 2008, https://www.mzv.sk/App/wcm/media.nsf/vw_ByID/ID_487E9D5804BEF5AEC125792E003FF5DA_EN/$File/Annex_5_EN.pdf.
[xiii] Ibid., secs. 2, 5, 6.
[xiv] “Act No. 365/2004 Coll. on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas and Protection against Discrimination,” sec. 9, last amended in 2008, https://www.mzv.sk/App/wcm/media.nsf/vw_ByID/ID_487E9D5804BEF5AEC125792E003FF5DA_EN/$File/Annex_5_EN.pdf.
[xv] “Act No. 365/2004 Coll. on Equal Treatment in Certain Areas and Protection against Discrimination,” art. II, last amended in 2008, https://www.mzv.sk/App/wcm/media.nsf/vw_ByID/ID_487E9D5804BEF5AEC125792E003FF5DA_EN/$File/Annex_5_EN.pdf.
[xvi] Labour Code of the Slovak Republic.