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We write in advance of the 69th pre-session of the Committee on the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights’ review of the State of Qatar’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which Qatar ratified in May 2018.

  1. Access to Quality Health Care (arts. 2, 3 and 12) 

Discrimination against and Restrictions on Women’s Access to Health Care

Human Rights Watch, in a report released in March 2021, documented extensive restrictions on women’s abilities to make key decisions about their lives, including with regards to their ability to independently access sexual and reproductive health care, due to Qatar’s discriminatory male guardianship system.[1]

Women need a marriage certificate and their husband’s identification card or passport to access prenatal, obstetric, and post-natal care in private and government-run hospitals. If it relates to emergency care such as when an unmarried woman is in labor, hospitals do provide such care but may have requirements to report them to the police. Women who are unmarried and pregnant can face punishment for accessing reproductive health care. Qatar prohibits extramarital sexual relations and if caught, individuals can be arrested and prosecuted.[2] Healthcare workers and other women recounted that hospitals and medical professionals report any cases that may indicate sexual relations outside of marriage, such as pregnancy, miscarriage, or sexually transmitted infections. In 2021, the government wrote to Human Rights Watch that hospitals have no reporting requirements to the police for unmarried pregnant women, except for their protection.

Abortions are criminalized in most cases, except in specific circumstances under law such as to save the mother’s life or in cases of fetal abnormality; in the case of the latter, both parents are required to consent to the procedure.[3] Women also require the permission of a male guardian for some decisions related to fertility, such as if they are seeking sterilization, but the legal basis for this requirement remains unclear.

Unmarried women reported that they cannot get sexual health checks and sometimes had to show they had been married for three years, particularly at state facilities, to access screening tests (pap smear tests) for cervical cancer. Unmarried women and girls who need examinations or birth control for reproductive health issues may need guardian permission (such as from their father) to access this care even when it does not relate to sexual activity or sexual health. Women reported experiencing delays, including where they needed urgent treatment, at state hospitals.[4]

Women reported cases where their child’s medical treatment or procedure was stopped by the child’s father, even when the mother is permitted to authorize it alone and has full legal custody of the child, without the possibility to seek an official determination as to the child’s best interests.

Discrimination against Stateless Persons and Migrants

Stateless individuals and migrants who are undocumented, often through no fault of their own, struggle in accessing health care because the Qatari government has failed to ensure that people without state identity documents can access essential health care. In many cases, they rely on relatives’ or friends’ health cards to obtain critical treatment at government hospitals or to access private hospitals and clinics (and pay higher fees).[5] In one case, a woman was unable to obtain essential vaccines for her infant because she and her child are stateless.[6]

Barriers to Covid-19 Vaccine Access for Marginalized Groups

Qatar is highly dependent on low-paid migrant workers who remain acutely vulnerable to working and living conditions that increase their risk of infection from Covid-19, such as crowded accommodations.[7] Many of them occupy jobs with a higher chance of exposure to the virus, including domestic workers.[8] Despite some positive steps taken to protect migrant workers infected and at risk of infection by Covid-19, gaps remain.[9]

The Qatari Ministry of Public Health’s web portal by which individuals can register for the Covid-19 vaccine requires a valid national identity number or a passport number, leaving individuals without access to IDs or passports apparently unable to register.[10] Without valid identity documents, stateless people in Qatar and undocumented migrants can be deprived of basic rights, including access to health care.

Second, undocumented migrants, including those who find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own, may fear arrest and deportation if they present themselves or their information to a government entity like the health ministry because the government has failed to ensure a firewall between social services and immigration authorities. Many employers also unlawfully retain or confiscate identity documents and passports from migrant workers, thereby impeding their access to health care.[11]

Third, migrant workers may lack flexibility in scheduling a vaccination appointment due to movement constraints and work conditions, including working hours up to 14 or more hours a day.[12] Domestic workers may be confined to their employer’s homes, lack contact with the outside world, and be forced to work without rest or days off.[13]

Finally, many migrant workers who do not have access to internet or do not speak English or Arabic are likely to face difficulties registering for the vaccine on the designated platform, which is only available online in those two languages.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Qatari Ministry of Public Health in March 2021 inquiring about their vaccine program and steps taken to mitigate the risk of unequal access for marginalized groups based on the above, but received no response.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions: 

  1. What steps are being taken to ensure women can receive all forms of sexual and reproductive health care without discrimination based on sex, marital status, migration status, or nationality?
  2. What steps are being taken to prohibit hospital or Ministry of Public Health staff from requiring guardian permission or a marriage certificate to provide health care to an adult woman?
  3. What steps are being taken to decriminalize consensual sexual relations and abortion that prevents women from accessing healthcare due to fear of arrest?
  4. What steps are being taken to ensure that women are treated as guardians of their own children on an equal basis to men including by allowing them to make health decisions for them, and to prevent fathers from being able to block a child’s access to healthcare without regard to the child’s best interests?
  5. Has the public health ministry developed a plan by which individuals without national IDs or residency numbers can register and access the Covid-19 vaccine, either via the online patient portal on its website, or an alternative platform or mechanism?
  6. Does the health ministry work with the Interior Ministry to ensure a firewall between immigration enforcement operations against undocumented individuals and access to the vaccine? If so, how is this communicated to undocumented communities?
  7. What policies are in place to ensure that all migrant workers and especially domestic workers are given the necessary support for online registration, time off, and access to the necessary documentation in order to receive the vaccine?
  8. Access to Education (arts. 2, 3 and 13)

Restrictions on Women’s Access to Education

Male guardians can directly or indirectly control women’s choices about education.[14] Qatar’s Family Law requires that the husband “allow his wife to complete her compulsory education and facilitate continuation of her university education within the State, provided that this shall not conflict with her family duties,” making a woman’s right to study contingent on her husband and prioritizing her domestic responsibilities.[15]

Qatar’s Scholarships Law requires students to have their guardian or sponsor act as a guarantor to obtain a government scholarship to study abroad or in Qatar.[16] This impacts children under 18 and women, as in practice guardianship does not end for them at 18, and non-Qataris who are sponsored by a family member or employer. Moreover, an unmarried Qatari woman under 25 is required to have a male guardian issue her an exit permit to travel abroad.[17] Under the Scholarships Law, government employees who are married women also cannot obtain a government post-graduate scholarship to study abroad unless their husbands are also required to be to “be abroad on study leave, a training course, an official mission, a secondment or a job,” and that the duration of the husband’s mission must be not less than three years.[18] Such a requirement is not imposed on married men seeking to study abroad. Such barriers have led to double the number of Qatari men studying abroad than women.[19]

Qatar University, which provides free undergraduate degrees to citizens, imposes specific restrictions over women’s movements, including requiring a woman to obtain male guardian permission in order to take student field trips, to stay in the university student accommodation, or to leave the university in a taxi or an Uber, ride-sharing taxi app, or with an unrelated man. Moreover, while, most degrees are available to women, not all degrees or all courses within degrees are available to both genders.[20]

Access to Education for Women’s Children, Stateless People, and Migrant Children
Qatar’s decision to arbitrarily strip families from the Ghufran clan of their citizenship starting in 1996 has left some members stateless to this day, depriving them of key human rights, including access to education.[21]

Free government schools and private and international schools in Qatar require valid identification documents to enroll. Stateless families whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in 2019 said they had to rely on connections and sympathetic people, including school administrators aware of their predicament, to enroll their children.[22] Individuals who were under 18 when their citizenship was revoked were subsequently unable to pursue higher education, even if their families could afford to pay.

Children of migrant workers also face barriers to obtaining an education, including high costs associated with enrolling in schools tailored to their needs and limited school enrollment capacity, as documented by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education in 2019.[23] Some of these fees are “high in relation to the possibilities of some families,” and impedes the families’ ability to send their children to school at all.[24]

Qatar’s Law No. 25 of 2001 on Mandatory Education guarantees free education for all children starting in primary school through secondary school; however, as documented by the special rapporteur, access to a high-quality, free education applies only to Qatari children and “certain” categories of non-Qataris.[25] Additionally, migrant workers sometimes have their salaries delayed to the point where their children are pulled out of school because they are unable to pay the fees, as documented by rights groups.[26]

In 2018, Qatar passed a permanent residency law that permits children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men, among others, to apply for permanent residency, allowing them to receive government health and educational services, invest in the economy, and own real estate.[27] However, the law limits the number of permanent residencies provided to 100 people per year, and some people have complained that they have not received a response to their application, some for several years. 

Human Rights Watch also documented how Qatari women’s inability to act as a child’s guardian, regardless of whether they are married to their child’s father, divorced, or widowed, harmed or increased the risk of harm to the child. The father, or closest paternal male guardian, is responsible for obtaining and renewing their children’s Qatari Identity Document (QID) cards, which can impact children’s ability to access services including schooling, libraries, or higher education. Moreover, he can decide to transfer children from their school to another at any time.[28]

Corporal Punishment
No law explicitly prohibits corporal punishment of children in Qatar.[29] The government wrote to Human Rights Watch in January 2021 that "all forms of assault are illegal in Qatar, including corporal punishment," citing article 309 of the Penal Code, which punishes assault less severe than cases causing "sickness or incapacity to work for more than twenty days." In 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported "deep concern that corporal punishment is lawful and widely used in the home, alternative care settings, day care, schools, and as a penal sentence." Qatar accepted a recommendation at the 2019 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review to "explicitly prohibit corporal punishment of children in all contexts and ensure that the prohibition is properly enforced and that offenders are brought before the competent authorities." Surveys have found substantial levels of corporal punishment. 

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to rectify the stateless status of members of the Ghufran clan, including by providing them a clear path towards regaining Qatari citizenship, and providing them access to education, among other key rights?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure all children, Qatari and non-Qatari, have access to high-quality education without discrimination, including free primary and secondary education, or higher education without fees so high that they constitute a barrier?
  • What steps are being taken to allow Qatari women to pass nationality to their children on an equal basis to men?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure women are treated equally as men in relation to guardianship of children, and that decisions are based on the best interests of children? 
  • What steps is the government taking to implement the 2019 Universal Periodic Review recommendation it accepted to prohibit all corporal punishment of children?
  1. Equal Access to Work for Men and Women (arts. 2, 3 and 6)

Qatari women face discrimination with respect to their right to work.[30] While no law requires women to have guardian permission to work, it also does not prohibit discrimination against women in the recruitment process.[31] Moreover, the Family Law provides that a woman can be deemed disobedient if she works outside the home without her husband’s permission, unless her husband is being abusive in preventing her from working.[32]

Women said they needed male guardian permission to work, usually in the form of a letter from the male guardian, to the employer stating they have no objection to their female relative working there. These cases included workplaces such as government ministries, as well as governmental or quasi-governmental institutions including Qatar University, Qatar Foundation, the State Audit Bureau, and in government schools.[33]

Human Rights Watch also found that foreign national women residing in Qatar on family visas, as wives and daughters, can obtain a special work permit from the labor ministry to work, but they have to show their family sponsor’s permission in the form of a “no-objection” letter.[34] Such rules endow men with a level of control that is open to abuse, as they can prohibit women from working.

Because only those with legal resident or citizen status can legally hold jobs, stateless individuals are excluded from the job market. In many cases, stateless individuals make their living working informally or by relying on friends and family members with legal status.[35]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to articulate an anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender, ensures effective remedies for those who experience discrimination and adequate penalties and sanctions for breaches, and provides a positive obligation on the state to take steps to eliminate gender-based discrimination?
  • What steps are being taken to prohibit employers, including government ministries and institutions, from demanding that women obtain the permission of a male guardian in order to work or conduct any work-related activities?
  • What steps, if any, are being taken to amend the 2004 Labour Law to prohibit gender-based discrimination during recruitment, job offers, or hire and to lift the bans on women participating in certain types of work?
  • What steps are being taken to lift the requirement that non-Qataris who are on family visas must show they have their family visa sponsors permission to work in order for them to obtain special work permits?
  1. Access to Decent, Safe and Healthy Working Conditions for Migrant Workers (arts. 1, 2, 6, and 7)

In 2020, Qatar introduced significant labor reforms for the country’s large migrant workforce including extending the right to leave the country without employer permission to workers not covered by the labor law, allowing migrant workers to change jobs without employer permission, and setting a higher and non-discriminatory minimum wage.[36] However, certain elements of the kafala (sponsorship) system remain in place, including that employers are still responsible for the entry and renewal of migrant workers’ visas, and migrant workers can still be reported for “absconding” if they leave their employer without their consent. Such control continues to facilitate employers’ abuse and exploitation of migrant workers.

The Covid-19 pandemic further exposed and amplified the ways in which migrant workers’ rights are violated. Several immigration detention centers, prisons, and cramped labor accommodations experienced devastating virus outbreaks that placed migrant workers in danger of infection.[37] Migrant domestic workers faced increased risks of abuse including overwork, confinement to their employers’ homes, and physical and sexual abuse. The 2017 domestic workers law, which provided some legal protections for domestic workers, is still weaker than labor law protections for all other workers and falls short of international standards, in addition to being weakly enforced.[38]

In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch found that across Qatar, employers frequently delayed, withheld, or arbitrarily deducted migrant workers’ wages, and the pandemic led to an increase in wage theft.[39] Authorities’ efforts to protect migrant workers’ right to accurate and timely wages have largely proven unsuccessful. Such abuses can occur because of the exploitative kafala system, deceptive recruitment practices leaving workers indebted and vulnerable; and business practices including the so-called “pay when paid” clause, which requires the subcontractor to delay payments to workers and leaves migrant workers vulnerable to payment delays in supply chain hierarchies.

Despite repeated warnings of potentially fatal heat-related illnesses, heat protection regulations for workers in Qatar still only prohibit outdoor work at midday hours during the hottest summer months of the year. New legislation passed in May 2021 introduced a temperature cut-off to determine when to stop working.[40] However, the country’s heat stress guidelines are not comprehensive or obligatory for employers, and have no enforcement mechanisms, as Human Rights Watch has documented.[41] Authorities have still not reported how many migrant workers died since 2012 and have not seriously investigated the causes of such deaths.

Migrant workers who engage in human rights activism or who hold political opinions critical of the government can be punished heavily by authorities under the cybercrime law, as was the case for a Kenyan national this year.[42]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to ensure that all aspects of the kafala (sponsorship) system are abolished?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure domestic workers are granted equal protections as other workers under the labor law and to bring the 2017 domestic workers law in line with international standards?
  • What steps are being taken to mend the labor law to guarantee workers’ right to strike, free association and collective bargaining, including for migrant workers and domestic workers?
  • What steps are being taken to end ‘pay-when-paid’ business practices, improve the wage protection system, and end recruitment fees and charges of workers?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure the enforcement of the new legislation announced in May 2021 to protect workers from heat stress?
  • Please provide disaggregated data regarding migrant worker deaths since 2012, and the real causes for such deaths, including any investigations into such deaths?
  1. Protection of Education from Attack (art. 13)

Qatar endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in May 2015, contributing to global efforts to protect education and improve compliance with international law.[43]

In May 2020 Qatar played a leading role in establishing resolution 74/275 adopted by the General Assembly, establishing September 9 as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack and aiming to garner global advocacy to ensure accountability for attacks on education.[44]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Do any Qatari laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?
  • What steps has Qatar taken to implement the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration?

[1] Human Rights Watch report, “‘Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules,” March 2021,

[2] See Qatar Penal Code, arts. 281-282 that provides a maximum of seven years imprisonment for sexual relations outside of marriage between male and female persons, or up to 15 years imprisonment if they know it is prohibited. For more information on how such offences are penalized and how they impact women disproportionality see Human Rights Watch, “Submission to the CEDAW Committee of Qatar’s Periodic Report for the 73rd Session,” July 1, 2019,,_ftn12.

[3] Women can face up to three years imprisonment for abortions without official approval, and anyone who administers abortions can face up to seven years imprisonment, or even up to 10 years imprisonment if they are a medical professional. See Qatar Penal Code, arts. 316-317. Law no. 2 of 1983 with respect to the Practice of the Profession of Medicine and Dental Medicine and Surgery, February 22, 1983, (accessed February 5, 2021), art. 17 provides that these include “certain and serious harm to the mother’s health” or “serious and incurable physical malformations or mental deficiency and both parents must consent to the abortion” of the fetus.

[4] For instance, a 33-year-old woman explained how she suffered from endometriosis since the age of 13 but could not get it diagnosed in Qatar until a few years after getting married, as healthcare workers would not allow her to undergo certain examinations, including a transvaginal ultrasound, a pap smear test, or a uterus biopsy, without a marriage certificate.

[5] Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship,” May 12, 2019,

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Qatar: Protect Migrant Workers During Pandemic,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 2, 2020,; Human Rights Watch report, “‘Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules.”

[8] Rothna Begum, “Domestic Workers in Middle East Risk Abuse Amid Covid-19  Crisis,” Al Jazeera, April 4, 2020,

[9] “Qatar: Protect Migrant Workers During Pandemic,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 2, 2020,

[10] Government of Qatar, National Authentication System, 2021, National Authentication System | Registration ( (accessed March 5, 2021).

[11] Human Rights Watch Report, “‘How Can We Work Without Wages?’ Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022,” August 24, 2020,

[12] Human Rights Watch Report, “‘How Can We Work Without Wages?’ Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022,” August 24, 2020,

[13] Rothna Begum, “Domestic Workers in Middle East Risk Abuse Amid Covid-19  Crisis,” Al Jazeera, April 4, 2020,

[14] Human Rights Watch report, “‘Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules”.

[15] Qatar Family Law, art. 68

[16] Law No. 19 of 1976 Organizing Scholarships (hereafter Scholarships Law), November 22, 1976, (accessed February 5, 2021), as amended by Law no. 10 of 1985, art. 14(1).

[17] Ministry of Interior website, Airport Security Department, “Exit Permit to the Qataris,” undated, accessed March 22, 2021,

[18] Qatar Scholarships Law, as amended by Law No. 10 of 1992, art. 30.

[19] According to Qatar’s 2019 education statistics report, Qatari male students at universities abroad on government scholarships are double the number of Qatari female students. See Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics, “Education in Qatar Statistical Profile 2019,” (in Arabic), June 2017, (accessed February 5, 2021), p.47. Women also reported how their male guardians dictated both what and where they are allowed to study, and how that impacted their career aspirations. Many women also reported that their families required them to go to the state-run Qatar University’s segregated campus for women, or that their families would not allow them to either study abroad or study in mixed gender environments within Qatar.

[20] For example, a 26-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch she wanted to study marine science, but it was only available for male students.

[21] Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship,” May 12, 2019,

[22] Ibid.

[23] “Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Ms. Koumba Boly Barry, following her visit to Qatar, 8-16  December 2019,” December 16, 2019, (accessed August 18, 2021).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid; Law No. 11 of 2001 on Mandatory Education, art. 2,

[26] Human Rights Watch report, “ ‘How Can We Work Without Wages?’: Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022,” August 2020, ; Amnesty International, “Qatar World Cup of Shame,” March 2016,

[27] Rothna Begum, “Qatar’s Permanent Residency Law a Step Forward but Discrimination Remains,” September 2018,

[28] In one case, one woman said her husband withdrew three of her children from international schools and registered them into poorly performing government schools as retaliation for her starting divorce proceedings. In a February 2021 hearing, she said, a judge rejected her petition to transfer her son to a different school on the basis that he could not interfere with the father’s “God-given right to decide where his child goes to school.”

[29] Corporal Punishment of Children: Human Rights Watch’s Index for the Middle East and North Africa, May 10, 2021,

[30] Human Rights Watch report, “‘Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules.”

[31] The Labour Law only prohibits discrimination in termination based on a woman’s marriage or taking maternity leave see Labour Law, art. 98.

[32] Qatar Family Law, art. 69.

[33] Some women said their families or husbands refused to let them work or would not let them work in mixed-gender environments.

[34] See Hukoomi, Qatar e-government portal, “Residence and Work Permits,” undated, accessed February 5, 2021,

[35] Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship.” 

[36] Human Rights Watch news release, ”Qatar: Significant Labor and Kafala Reforms,” September 24, 2020,

[37] Human Rights Watch news release, “Gulf States: Ease Immigration Detention in Pandemic,” April 7, 2020,; Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Reported Covid-19 Outbreak in Central Prison,” May 18, 2020,; Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Protect Migrant Workers During Pandemic,” April 2, 2020,

[39] Human Rights Watch Report, “‘How Can We Work Without Wages?’ Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022.”

[40] International Labour Organization, “New legislation in Qatar provides greater protection to workers from heat stress,” May 27, 2021, (accessed August 24, 2021).

[41] Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Urgently Investigate Migrant Worker Deaths,” October 10, 2019,

[42] See Joint Public Statement by, Amnesty International, Fair Square, the Business and Human Rights Centre, and Human Rights Watch, “Kenyan labour rights activist leaves Qatar after paying hefty fine for ‘false news’,” August 18, 2021, Qatari authorities forcibly disappeared the 28-year-old security guard on May 4 and held him in solitary confinement for a month. During his detention, he was denied access to legal counsel. The Supreme Judiciary Council handed down a criminal order stating the man had broadcast and published “false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state” and as a result fined him QR25,000. The man has been vocal on online platforms about the plight of migrant workers like himself in the country. An organization working on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar paid the fine and authorities allowed the man to leave Qatar on August 16, 2021.

[43] The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict, the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict, and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. See: Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed January 23, 2020); and United Nations General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 May 2020, A/RES/74/275, May 29, 2020, (accessed August 20, 2021).

[44] The international day provides an annual platform where the international community can review progress, new data and make commitments towards effective mechanisms to end impunity for those who attack schools

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