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Costa Rica

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, and it provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law effectively.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including sentences of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners. The government enforced the laws effectively.

Violence against women remained a serious problem, and as of May the government reported that 29 women had been killed, including four killed by a partner or spouse. On May 14, the president signed a reform to the Law on Criminalization of Violence Against Women to expand the protections available to victims of violence, including to those who are in informal relationships, engaged to be married, divorced, and separated. On August 23, the president signed a reform to the law, which includes the concept of femicide in other contexts.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The government enforced the law effectively. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

According to human rights experts, problems related to access of reproductive health services remained for lesbian and bisexual, indigenous, and Afrodescendent women, and women with disabilities.

There were some barriers to access contraception. The COVID-19 pandemic especially affected vulnerable population’s access to sexual and reproductive health. A study by the UN Population Fund reported the country may have regressed by as much as five years with respect to access to short-term contraception caused by the lack of access to health services, either due to pandemic-related isolation measures, caregiving tasks that fall mainly on women (which increased during the pandemic), or lack of information. On May 5, health authorities announced that the public health system included emergency contraception as a service, according to a guideline published on April 16; previously, emergency contraception was provided only to victims of rape.

Some social barriers adversely affected access to skilled health care providers during pregnancy and childbirth. Women in rural areas and indigenous women did not always have access to health care during childbirth due to geographic isolation. Some women had difficulty accessing prenatal care. Government regulations state that all pregnant women, including undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, have access to health services. In practice, however, refugees and asylum seekers reported that access to health services and reproductive health management services was difficult. Refugee and migrant advocates stated that this population only qualified for public health services if they were minors, visibly pregnant, or facing a life-threatening emergency, but some individuals reported being denied services even in emergency situations.

The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The government does not allow abortion for survivors of rape or sexual violence. Human rights experts identified problems such as revictimization and access to antiretroviral therapy.

On October 11, the National Institute for Women and the UN Population Fund presented a guide made for the indigenous territories of Talamanca to raise awareness regarding the importance of preventing pregnancies in girls and adolescents. During the year the birth rates of girls and adolescents within the Talamanca region surpassed the national average by 17 per 1,000.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men; however, the law restricts women’s ability to work the same hours as men or in sectors deemed dangerous. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires that women and men receive equal pay for equal work. The government enforced the laws effectively, although an official study reported a pay gap of 13 percent for highly skilled jobs, which remained largely male dominated.

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. The government enforced the law effectively. On August 10, the president signed a law establishing affirmative hiring policies for persons of African descent.

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands.

On March 22, the president participated in a meeting with indigenous leaders to find ways to streamline processes in favor of a plan for the recovery of indigenous territories, designed to comply with the 1977 indigenous law obligating the return of land to indigenous communities. The government put embargoes on properties owned by nonindigenous individuals located in indigenous territories. A few embargoed properties were in the southern region that in the past suffered violent incidents, including the killing of two activists over land ownership.

On August 25, Judge Jean Carlos Cespedes Mora issued an eviction order against a community of indigenous women in the Cabecar territory of China Kicha, in favor of the nonindigenous individual Danilo Badilla Roman. Indigenous leaders and activists denounced this ruling, stating that the registry of state information showed the land had the official annotation of “property located in indigenous territory” and that according to the indigenous law, nonindigenous persons “may not rent, lease, buy or in any other way acquire lands or farms included within these reserves,” and “any transfer or negotiation of lands or improvements of these in indigenous reserves, between indigenous and nonindigenous, is absolutely null.” Badilla’s property deeds were granted in 2019, long after the 1977 indigenous law was passed.

Indigenous women faced social and political obstacles to participate in local governance and to hold leadership positions in social organizations. The board of directors of the National Indigenous Commission comprised seven members, but only one of them was female.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children (PANI) reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, but there was no marked increase in the number of cases of child violence or abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The law establishes penalties for sex with minors and prohibits child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person younger than age 15, or younger than 18 if the age difference is more than five years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The law establishes a statute of limitations of 25 years for sexual crimes against minors. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The country was a destination for child sex tourism.

Institutionalized Children: The Ombudsman’s Office issued a series of recommendations to PANI, which included a recommendation to design shelters for children according to international standards. These recommendations were a result of the Ombudsman Office’s 2020 plan to conduct random inspections as a follow-up measure to reduce overcrowding in PANI shelters. The judicial investigation continued in the 2020 case of allegations of abuse of children in a PANI-operated shelter. PANI representatives reported they took immediate actions to guarantee the protection of the nine victims and opened a disciplinary procedure against the workers while the judicial investigation progressed.

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

The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were between 3,000 and 3,500 Jewish persons in the country. There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law establishes that persons with disabilities can access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law also establishes a right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. On May 28, the president signed two executive orders that seek to assure employment for persons with disabilities by facilitating enforcement of a quota for positions in the public sector and by promoting employment in the private sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that the poor condition of ramps, lack of priority seating, and the height of steps continued to be reasons for complaints. The report also noted that government officials did not sanction transportation providers for these violations. The government policy on education and the national plan for higher education aimed to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities. According to an August complaint by a student with disabilities, the University of Costa Rica was not accessible to students with disabilities. The student’s complaint noted that he was not able to enroll in a required course for two years because the university would not provide an interpreter. The Ombudsman’s Office investigated the complaint and recommended a change to the method of requesting interpreters for deaf students at the university.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Labor discrimination towards HIV patients continued; some persons reported losing their jobs due to discrimination, their deteriorating health, or both, although the problem was not widespread. The government took no concrete steps to combat discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status despite having adopted a national strategic plan on HIV and AIDS (2016-21).

On February 10, the Ombudsman’s Office cut funding to an HIV containment project. In reaction to this announcement, 20 civil society organizations and an estimated 40 persons protested outside of the Ombudsman’s Office to demonstrate support for the HIV project.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and access to education and health-care services. LGBTQI+ individuals experienced discrimination within their own families due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics.

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