Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for conviction of the rape of an adult (man or woman), but it was rarely enforced.
The law prohibits domestic violence, but it too was rarely enforced. Conviction of domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for conviction of serious physical or psychological injury is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.
Lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to hinder the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were survivors of a violent crime sometime in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home.
The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, and conviction stipulates a sentence of 30 years in prison. Activists stated corruption, a lack of adequate crime scene investigation, a lack of specialized prosecutors, and a dysfunctional, underfunded judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.
On July 20, Lucy Alejandra Huanca was found dead in her home in Santa Cruz after her partner, a police officer, allegedly beat her to death. Huanca had twice filed domestic abuse reports against her partner. A court issued a protective order in 2019, and Huanca retracted her second complaint in 2020.
In August 2020 Betsabe Mara Alacia was killed by her partner, police lieutenant Adan Boris Mina. Investigations showed that Mina shot and killed, burned, and dismembered Alacia’s body. Mina was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but investigators indicated that two or three police officers helped cover up the crime and were not apprehended. On March 10, it was reported Mina regularly left the prison with help from authorities and that he threatened the victim’s family.
Women’s rights organizations reported police assigned to the Special Force against Violence did not have sufficient resources and frontline officers lacked proper training regarding their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence survivors received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after the cases languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the survivor was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial processes, and financial burdens discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.
A law passed in 2014 called for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments, but as of 2020 only four departments had shelters. Human rights activists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers. Activists stated that shelters mixed populations of vulnerable women, girls, and boys, including juvenile delinquents, human trafficking victims, sexual abuse survivors, and minors with mental-health problems.
On August 3, El Alto mayor Eva Copa signed an agreement with the domestic NGO Women Creating to implement “a critical route for women in situations of violence” across the municipality of El Alto. The agreement sought to provide high-quality and timely services to survivors of violence. The agreement expanded 24-hour legal and medical assistance and aimed to offer a seamless support system for survivors whenever they decided to flee violence and seek safety.
Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a criminal offense for which conviction is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups) and that the sexual harassment laws were rarely enforced.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Civil society noted information on access to reproductive health could be difficult to obtain in rural areas due to lack of medical infrastructure.
The law provides for access to contraceptives, but according to reproductive rights group Marie Stopes International-Bolivia, many health-care providers refused to provide the service and stigmatized patients who requested contraceptives. Some health-care providers required the consent of an adult woman’s husband or other male family member before providing her with contraceptives and would not provide contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent. Misinformation and social taboos made women hesitant to seek contraceptives.
Lack of access to quality medical care in remote areas adversely affected access to skilled health-care attendance during pregnancy and birth. In addition many indigenous women feared their cultural traditions regarding who should be present at the birth, the treatment of the placenta, and treatment of the umbilical cord would not be respected if they gave birth in a hospital or clinic.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 155 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The Pan American Health Organization reported one-third of all maternal deaths were caused by obstetric hemorrhage, usually postpartum. Another leading cause of maternal death was unsafe, clandestine abortions; access to adequate postabortion care and obstetric emergency services was limited.
The maternal mortality rate was higher among indigenous women due to lack of access to adequate medical services. In El Alto, the second largest city, largely composed of indigenous persons, the maternal mortality rate was 316 per 100,000 live births. The higher mortality rate was attributed to the city’s slow-growing health-care system not keeping pace with the city’s 30 percent population growth in the last 10 years.
Girls in rural areas lacked access to menstrual hygiene products, which affected their performance in school. The law prohibits schools from expelling pregnant girls, but 25 percent of pregnant girls dropped out of school in 2019 either because of social pressure or lack of government assistance, or both.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. The government did not enforce the law effectively. (See also section 7.d. for information regarding labor laws that discriminate against women.)
The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same types of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported that employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.
In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than age 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities.
Many indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they had a disproportionately large share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.
Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a major political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu (traditional form of a community) system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.
Lowlands indigenous peoples complained they were not well represented in government or by elected representatives. These indigenous groups resided in three departments of the country’s eastern lowlands: Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. These indigenous peoples included several ethnic and linguistic groups that considered themselves distinct from the Aymara and Quechua indigenous groups of the highland plateau region. Leaders of the indigenous communities of lowlands Santa Cruz Department described growing anger and frustration with the national government for continuing a land policy developed under former president Evo Morales. The leaders decried the policy as having turned into a de facto mechanism for redistributing indigenous lands to government loyalists who allegedly ignited uncontrolled burns to clear the land, exhausted the nutrient-poor Amazon soil within three to four years with coca cultivation, turned the land over to Chinese companies for mineral extraction, and then repeated the cycle nearby.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2018 civil registry indicated 78 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 96 percent by age 12.
Child Abuse: The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13. Conviction for rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The Justice Ministry reported 1,308 cases of child abuse in 2020, compared with 923 cases in 2019 and 850 cases in 2018. There were 800 cases of child abuse reported from January to April, including five cases of infanticide. Nonprofit organizations assessed the actual number of abused children as probably much higher. In April Minister of Justice Lima publicly called on authorities at all levels to do more to combat child abuse. On August 19, several municipal and regional governments agreed to increase their budget allocations to combat child abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction for commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with sentences of 10- to 15-years’ imprisonment.
The penalty for statutory rape of an adolescent age 14 to 17 is three to six years’ imprisonment. The penalty for having sex with a child younger than age 14 is 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment, “even if there is no use of force or intimidation and consent is alleged.”
Institutionalized Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 (the most recent information available) that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them. Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse survivors, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.
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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. There were no reports of anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to government payments of 250 bolivianos ($36) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities. The government issued registration cards to persons with disabilities so they could collect benefits, including free access to health services.
The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited access in most urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. Official action was rarely taken to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.
In January the human rights ombudswoman filed a complaint with the national police authority after police used pepper spray on persons with disabilities who were protesting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. According to the complaint, the officers prevented the delivery of blankets, clothing, water, diapers, and other items that were essential to the protesters.
Secondary schools reported that many students with disabilities stopped attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic because they could not attend virtual classes. They either lacked internet access or their disability prevented them from following lessons on a computer.
In April the ombudswoman reported 13 universities did not comply with disability laws. More than 100 persons reported they were unable to complete their undergraduate studies because colleges failed to provide accommodations required by law.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was less able to diagnose cases, either because persons were less willing to be tested or the government lacked the resources to reach individuals in remote areas.
Activists reported discrimination forced persons with HIV to seek medical attention outside the country.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
On February 6, a 19-year-old transgender woman, Alessandra (last name withheld by authorities), was found strangled to death in the city of Cochabamba in a boarding house where she worked as a sex worker. On May 5, police reported they had arrested a suspect in the case. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists in Cochabamba reported that criminal proceedings were underway. Andres Mallo, spokesman for the LGBTQI+ NGO Diverse Organization, reported that in the past five years there had been 60 criminal cases involving violence against LGBTQI+ persons but only one conviction. LGBTQI+ activists pointed to a persistent failure by local authorities to investigate killings and other crimes perpetrated against the LGBTQI+ community.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identification cards and birth certificates. Nonetheless, transgender activists stated most of the transgender community was forced to turn to commercial sex to earn a living due to discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activists reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.
LGBTQI+ persons faced overt discrimination in the workplace, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in health care, despite laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Older LGBTQI+ persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.
There was mob violence in lieu of justice, a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors, according to observers. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and a lack of faith in the justice system to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence.