Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. While not specifically addressed in the law, spousal rape may be considered a crime if the actions meet the criminal code definition of rape. The law requires the OAG to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim’s pardon to nullify the criminal charge. The penalty for rape is six to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the law provides for a maximum sentence of 20 years for rape of certain classes of victims, including children and persons with disabilities.
Incidents of rape continued to be underreported for a number of reasons, including societal and cultural pressures on victims, fear of reprisal, ineffective and unsupportive responses by authorities toward victims, fear of publicity, and a perception among victims that cases were unlikely to be prosecuted. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.
Rape and other sexual crimes against women were widespread. The OAG reported 2,264 cases of rape and four cases of sexual, physical, and psychological abuses of women by police officers during the year.
On March 28, First Lady and Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato inaugurated the first “Ciudad Mujer” service center in Lourdes, Department of La Libertad, intended to provide comprehensive assistance to victims of gender violence. During the year ISDEMU provided health and psychological assistance to 158 women, 389 girls, and13 boys who suffered sexual abuse.
The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison. The law also permits obtaining restraining orders against offenders. Domestic violence was considered socially acceptable by a large portion of the population, and, as with rape, its incidence was underreported.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a widespread and serious problem. Laws against domestic violence were not well enforced, and cases were not effectively prosecuted. During the year ISDEMU received 3,895 reports of domestic violence and provided medical and psychological assistance to 5,134 individuals for physical abuses, including sexual aggression, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual or labor harassment, commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking in persons, and alien smuggling. ISDEMU also reported 3,789 cases of “psychological abuse.”
During the year the PNC investigated 1,752 cases of domestic violence, which resulted in five convictions, 487 trial procedures, and 201 cases resolved through mediation. As of November the OAG reported 594 women had died from violence. In March UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo asserted that the country’s “generalized state of violence” subjected women to murder, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and commercial sexual exploitation.
ISDEMU coordinated with the judicial and executive branches and civil society groups to conduct public awareness campaigns against domestic violence and sexual abuse. The PDDH, OAG, Supreme Court, Public Defender’s Office, and PNC collaborated with NGOs and other organizations to combat violence against women through education, increased enforcement of the law, and NGO support programs for victims. The SIS, through ISDEMU, defined policies, programs, and projects on domestic violence and continued to maintain a telephone hotline and a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The government’s efforts to combat domestic violence were minimally effective.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides penalties of imprisonment from three to five years if the victim is an adult and from four to eight years if the victim is a minor. Fines could also be imposed. The government did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively. Since underreporting by victims of sexual harassment appeared to be widespread, it was difficult to estimate the extent of the problem. ISDEMU reported 101 cases of sexual harassment and 560 cases of sexual aggression. The OAG reported 590 complaints of sexual harassment during the year, of which 254 were brought to trial; 12 of these cases were resolved through mediation, and 39 resulted in convictions.
In June the government launched the Office of Citizen Complaints and Service to provide assistance to female victims of violence and physical abuse. There were no reports by year’s end on its activities.
The law defines sexual harassment as any unwanted physical sexual contact and stipulates penalties of three to five years in prison (or four to eight years in cases where the victim is under age 15 at the time of the offense). Fines are added to the prison term in cases where the perpetrator is in a position of authority or trust over the victim.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and information about and access to contraception was available widely. Demographic Health Surveys indicated that 72 percent of married women used some method of family planning. Prenatal care and skilled attendance at delivery were also readily available. The UN Population Fund estimated that the maternal mortality rate in 2008 was 110 deaths per 100,000 live births. Poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to a formal medical care system are the major factors contributing to a high maternal mortality rate. Women and men have equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights under family and property law, but women did not receive equal treatment in practice. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials who deny a person’s civil rights based on gender, and six months to two years for employers who discriminate against women in the workplace. However, employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.
Although pregnancy testing as a condition for employment is illegal, some businesses allegedly required female job applicants to present pregnancy test results, and some businesses illegally fired pregnant workers. During the year the Ministry of Labor received 62 complaints regarding illegal firing of pregnant workers, and imposed seven fines totaling $771.
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, women suffered from cultural, economic, and societal discrimination. Men often received priority in job placement and promotions, and women were not accorded equal treatment in traditional male-dominated sectors, such as agriculture and business. Training for women generally was confined to low-wage occupational areas where women already held most positions, such as teaching, nursing, apparel assembly, home industry, and small business.
On September 9, the police director created an internal agency tasked with increasing gender equality within the PNC. Women constituted 9 percent of PNC officers. On September 28, the Legislative Assembly created a new committee on “women and gender equality” and granted official recognition to an autonomous association consisting of female deputies.