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El Salvador

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and the criminal code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. Cases may be dropped for lack of evidence if the victim refuses to provide it. The penalty for rape is generally six to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the law provides for a maximum sentence of 20 years for raping certain classes of victims, including children and persons with disabilities.

Incidents of rape continued to be underreported for several reasons, including societal and cultural pressures on victims, fear of reprisal, ineffective and unsupportive responses by authorities to 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. On February 26, the PDDH criticized the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s UTE general director Mauricio Rodriquez, for failing to provide adequate security to seven female witnesses and victims of sex trafficking, one of whom was sexually assaulted by a security guard in a shelter supervised by the UTE. Although the victim filed a complaint, the security guard was not sanctioned or removed.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that, as of July 18, 658 women had been victims of sexual-related crimes and 63 defendants had been convicted for sexual-related crimes against women. As of March 9, the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU) reported 385 cases of rape against women.

ISDEMU provided health and psychological assistance to women who were victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, mistreatment, sexual harassment, labor harassment, trafficking in persons, commercial sexual exploitation, or alien smuggling.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a widespread and serious problem. A large portion of the population considered domestic violence socially acceptable; as with rape, its incidence was underreported. The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence were not well enforced, and cases were not effectively prosecuted. The law prohibits mediation in domestic violence disputes.

Between January and July 2016, ISDEMU reported 21 cases of femicide, 458 cases of physical abuse, 385 cases of sexual violence, and 2,259 cases of psychological abuse. ISDEMU reported 3,070 cases of domestic violence against women during the same period. In June ISDEMU issued its 2015 annual report on violence against women and reported that 230 died due to violence in the first six months of 2015, compared with 294 during the same period in 2014 and 217 in 2013.

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, the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Public Defender’s Office, and the PNC collaborated with NGOs and other organizations to combat violence against women through education, increased enforcement of the law, and programs for victims. The Secretariat of Social Inclusion, through ISDEMU, defined policies, programs, and projects on domestic violence and continued to maintain one shared telephone hotline and two separate shelters for victims of domestic abuse and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The government’s efforts to combat domestic violence were minimally effective.

Women’s rights NGOs claimed that many violent crimes against women occurred within the context of gang structures, where women were “corralled” and “disposed of at the whims of male gang members.”

On March 3, women’s rights activist for the NGO Hablame de Respeto (“Speak to me about respect”) Aida Pineda was found dead, shot 11 times in front of her house in Milagrosa, San Miguel. Colleagues of Pineda contended that her killing was a femicide and that she was targeted for being a “powerful woman” who challenged the control of the Barrio 18 gang’s repressive behavior toward women.

As of August, the Office of the Inspector General reported 40 cases of alleged violations of police officers against women due to their gender.

In an effort to sensitize the judicial system to gender-based violent crimes, the Legislative Assembly approved the creation of specialized courts for violence against women. The San Salvador courts began operations on June 1, while the San Miguel and Santa Ana courts were scheduled to start in 2017.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides imprisonment of up to five years if the victim is an adult and up to eight years if the victim is a minor. Courts may impose fines in addition to a prison term in cases where the perpetrator is in a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law also mandates that employers take measures to avoid sexual harassment, violence against women, and other workplace harassment problems. The law requires employers to create and implement preventive programs to address violence against women, sexual abuse, and other psychosocial risks. The government, however, 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.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of having children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to reproductive health services outside of the capital city San Salvador, however, was limited.

Civil society advocates expressed concern that the country’s complete abortion ban had led to the wrongful incarceration of women who suffered severe pregnancy complications, including miscarriages. Between 1999 and 2011, 17 women (referred to as “Las 17”) were charged for having an abortion and convicted of homicide following obstetric emergencies and were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. A petition was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that highlighted violations of due process and of women’s rights. Amnesty International and the UN Development Program claimed the women had miscarriages, while the Legal Medicine Institute argued that the women committed infanticide through abortion. In December 2014 one of “Las 17,” Mirna Isabel Rodriguez, “Mima,” was released after serving her prison sentence before her pardon could be finalized. On May 20, San Salvador’s Third Tribunal Sentencing Court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove charges against a second member of the group, Maria Teresa Rivera, for aggravated homicide after having a miscarriage in 2011. On October 24, an appellate court did not admit a case against a third member, Santos Elizabeth Gamez Herrera. The Legislative Assembly was reviewing the remaining 14 cases. During the year the NGO Colectiva Feminista reported that two more women presented their cases, which included similarities with those of the “Las 17” women.

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights but women did not enjoy equal treatment. 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, but 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.

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender; nevertheless, women suffered from cultural, economic, and societal discrimination. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but according to the 2015 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, the average wage paid to women for comparable work was 60 percent of compensation paid to men. Men often received priority in job placement and promotions, and women did not receive equal treatment in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as agriculture and business. Training was generally available for women only in low- and middle-wage occupations where women already held most positions, such as teaching, nursing, apparel assembly, home industry, and small business.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from one’s parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a $2.85 fine. While firm statistics were unavailable, many births were not registered. Failure to register resulted in denial of school enrollment.

Education: Education is free, universal, and compulsory through the ninth grade and nominally free through high school. Rural areas, however, frequently did not provide required education to all eligible students due to a lack of resources and because rural parents often withdrew their children from school by the sixth grade to allow them to work.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious and widespread problem. Incidents of abuse continued to be underreported for a number of reasons, including societal and cultural pressures on victims, fear of reprisal against victims, ineffective and unsupportive responses by authorities toward victims, fear of publicity, and a perception among victims that cases were unlikely to be prosecuted. During the year an appellate judge issued a report noting serious deficiencies in technical criteria for determining whether minors are victims of child abuse.

The Salvadoran Institute for the Comprehensive Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA), an autonomous government entity, defined policies, programs, and projects on child abuse; maintained a shelter for child victims of abuse and female child victims of commercial sexual exploitation; and conducted a violence awareness campaign to combat child abuse. From January to May, ISNA reported providing psychological assistance to 131 children for physical and psychological abuse and 134 for sexual violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although the law authorizes marriage from the age of 14 if both the boy and girl have reached puberty, if the girl is pregnant, or if the couple has a child.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, including girls and boys in prostitution, remained a problem. Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law, which prescribes penalties of 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for trafficking crimes. An offense committed against a child is treated as an aggravating circumstance, and the penalty increases by one-third, but the government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18 and includes penalties of four to 13 years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits paying anyone under the age of 18 for sexual services. The Secretariat of Social Inclusion, through ISDEMU, continued to maintain one shared telephone hotline for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and victims of domestic abuse. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for violations.

Displaced Children: Surveys indicated the primary motivations for migration were family reunification, a lack of economic and educational opportunity in the country, and fear of violence.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the government agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but it lacked enforcement power. According to CONAIPD, the government did not allocate sufficient resources to enforce prohibitions against discrimination effectively, particularly in education, employment, and transportation. The government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. There were almost no access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended primary school, but attendance at higher levels was more dependent on their parents’ financial resources.

According to CONAIPD, only 5 percent of businesses and nongovernment agencies fulfilled the legal requirement of hiring one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. There was no information available regarding abuse in educational or mental health facilities, although CONAIPD previously reported isolated incidents, including sexual abuse, in those facilities.

CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. Some schools would not accept children with disabilities due to a lack of facilities and resources. There was no formal system for filing a discrimination complaint involving a disability with the government.

Due to their use of sign language, several young deaf individuals were confused with gang members (who also used signs to communicate) by police officers and soldiers and suffered mistreatment.

On May 25, CONAIPD and the Cooperative Transport Association Ciudad Delgado launched 10 bus units with platform access for persons with disabilities.

Several public and private organizations, including the Telethon Foundation for Disabled Rehabilitation and the National Institute for Comprehensive Rehabilitation (ISRI), promoted the rights of persons with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Foundation, in cooperation with ISRI, continued to operate a treatment center for persons with disabilities. CONAIPD reported that the government provided minimal funding for ISRI.

Indigenous People

A 2014 constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of indigenous people, but no laws provide indigenous people rights to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit were extremely limited.

During the year the municipalities of Conchagua and Santo Domingo de Guzman, which have relatively higher populations of Nahuat speakers, approved regulations to improve the living conditions for women, persons with disabilities, and older indigenous individuals in the towns and made reference to their historic lands.

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

Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, including in employment and access to health care. In May the PDDH conducted a survey of transgender individuals and reported that 52 percent had suffered death threats or violence, of which 23.7 percent had reported the incidents.

NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. Members of the LGBTI community stated that PNC and Attorney General’s Office personnel ridiculed them when they applied for identification cards or reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons. The NGO Space for Lesbian Women for Diversity claimed that, as of November, the Attorney General’s Office had not prosecuted any cases of killings and other violent acts or of possible human rights violations committed by public officials against LGBTI persons. The Secretariat for Social Inclusion reported that 11 LGBTI persons were killed during the year because of their sexual orientation. The PDDH reported that since 2009 a total of 18 LGBTI persons were killed because of their sexual orientation.

Wilber Leonel Flores Lopez, a former soldier, was charged with attempted murder of a transgender individual on April 9. Flores was arrested on August 23. On August 26, an initial hearing was held in the First Court of Peace of Santa Ana, where the testimony of the victim, medical reports, and other forensic evidence were analyzed. The judge, however, did not order prison detention for Flores. The trial was pending, and prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision not to jail Flores.

On May 30, the newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported that police had uncovered the body of a transgender woman who had been beaten and strangled to death. An autopsy report by the Forensic Science Institute showed that the victim’s body was mutilated and showed indications that the victim was sexually violated. The PNC did not declare a motive for the killing. LGBTI NGOs alleged the victim was targeted due to her transgender identity and that authorities refused to investigate the crime from that angle.

On August 10, the Attorney General’s Office pressed assault charges against five officers involved in the assault in January 2015 of Alex Pena, a transgender man and municipal police officer. On October 6, police officers Melvin Neftali, Hernandez Alvarado, and Francisco Balmore Hernandez were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for assault. The other officers were acquitted. On October 6, the government reported on the convictions using Pena’s female birth name.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, a LGBTI NGO, reported that discrimination due to HIV was widespread. Lack of public information and medical resources, fear of reprisal, fear of ostracism, and mild penalties incommensurate with the seriousness of the discrimination remained problems in confronting discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS or in assisting persons suffering from HIV/AIDS. As of June 30, the PDDH reported four cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. As of October, the Ministry of Labor had reported one case of discrimination against an HIV-positive employee based on the illness.

Guatemala

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. The PDH Ombudsman for Women and activists agreed that full investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and rape cases took an average of two to three years if the victims had access to quality legal representation. Impunity for perpetrators remained very high. Rape survivors frequently did not report crimes due to lack of confidence in the justice system, social stigma, and fear of reprisal.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. According to the Public Ministry, there were 11,399 reports of sexual or physical assault through August. During the same period, there were 610 convictions for sexual or physical assault on women, an increase from the 527 convictions in the same period the previous year.

The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The PNC’s Special Unit for Sex Crimes, the Office of Attention to Victims, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women, and a special unit for trafficking in persons and illegal adoptions within the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime deal with various aspects of violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. In September 2015 the government relaunched the Office of the Coordinator for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women (CONAPREVI), which serves as the domestic violence interagency coordinator and includes several civil society organizations. CONAPREVI had been active under previous governments but was dormant in recent years due to a lack of leadership and funding.

The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender, but violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a serious problem. The law prohibits domestic abuse, allows for the issuance of restraining orders against alleged aggressors and police protection for victims, and requires the PNC to intervene in violent situations in the home. The PNC often failed to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence, however, and women’s rights advocates reported that few officers received training to deal with domestic violence or to assist survivors.

On November 22, the Public Ministry established a special prosecutor for femicide. The Institute of Public Criminal Defense, a government institution, provided free legal, medical, and psychological assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Femicide remained a significant problem. Sexual assault, torture, and mutilation were frequently evident in killings. The NGO Mutual Support Group, using government data, reported 565 violent deaths of women through the end of September. As of that month, authorities convicted 56 individuals for femicide. NGOs expressed concern that sentences were sometimes lenient.

Sexual and domestic violence remained serious problems. The PDH Office of Ombudsman for Women supported survivors of domestic and social violence by accompanying them to judicial proceedings and offering some social services such as psychological support. The Office of Ombudsman for Indigenous Women also coordinated and promoted action by government institutions and NGOs to prevent violence and discrimination against indigenous women, but lacked resources to reach all areas. The office maintained no statistics on its caseload. Civil society organizations provided mediation and free legal services to low-income women.

Although the law affords protection, including shelter, to victims of domestic violence, there were insufficient facilities for this purpose. The Ministry of Government operated eight shelters for survivors of abuse in departments with the greatest incidence of domestic violence. Due to continual budget uncertainties, the shelters’ operations were erratic. Several shelters funded by private donors or municipal governments operated in cities and the countryside. Many of the centers provided legal and psychological support and temporary accommodation.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it, such as the Femicide Law. There were no reliable estimates of the frequency of sexual harassment; however, human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread. The government ran a pilot program consisting of social media and bus advertisements to promote greater awareness against sexual harassment and to encourage victims and witnesses to report the crime. Under this pilot program, the PNC, local transit police, and other groups established protocols for handling sexual harassment complaints.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. They did not always have the information and means to do so.

Cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers hampered access to reproductive health care, particularly for indigenous women in rural areas. Discriminatory attitudes among health-care providers and a lack of culturally sensitive reproductive and maternal health-care services deterred many indigenous women from accessing these services.

As a result of efforts to expand health services to underserved communities, the government was able to decrease the maternal mortality ratio and increase the percentage of institutional deliveries. Although the country made progress towards decreasing the maternal mortality ratio, it remained relatively high at 88 deaths per 100,000 live births. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported in 2016 that skilled health personnel attended only 66 percent of births. Unsafe abortion also contributed to the country’s high maternal mortality ratio; legal abortion was tightly restricted except to save the life of the mother.

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination, particularly under family and labor law, and were less likely to hold management positions. The government’s Secretariat for Women’s Affairs advises the president on interagency coordination of policies affecting women and their development.

Women were employed primarily in low-wage jobs in agriculture, retail businesses, the service sector, textile and apparel industries, and government. Women also obtained employment more frequently in the informal sector, where pay was generally lower and benefits nonexistent. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Report estimated women’s earned income was 56 percent that of men, and women on average received 64 percent of men’s salaries for comparable work. Many women engaged in agricultural work and often reported receiving less than 50 percent of a man’s salary for similar work. Women may legally own, manage, and inherit property on an equal basis with men, including in situations involving divorce.

Economic violence is a crime under the femicide law. The law defines it as actions that deprive a woman of the economic benefits to which she is legally entitled and cause damage to her economic situation. The crime occurs most frequently during divorce when a husband refuses to pay alimony, cancels or liquidates bank accounts, or sells jointly owned property without the spouse’s knowledge. A slow court system and late notifications of legal actions or notifications in Spanish to women who could not read Spanish contributed to the situation. According to the Public Ministry, from January through September, 271 reports of economic violence were filed, and authorities obtained five convictions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Factors such as the need to travel to unfamiliar urban areas, to interact with nonindigenous male government officials, and to speak Spanish inhibited some indigenous women from registering their children. Authorities prevented foreign citizens residing in the country without appropriate documentation from registering their locally born children prior to regularizing their own immigration status. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While compulsory through age 14, education through the secondary level is not obligatory, and less than half of eligible children attended secondary school. Also, less than half of secondary schools were public. Girls, especially girls in indigenous communities, were significantly less likely than boys to be educated to the secondary school level. Access to compulsory education in primary school was limited in many rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. In March the country created the unit of Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women had previously handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported that it convicted the abusers of 489 minor victims for sexual abuse or other types of violence through September.

According to the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET), from January through July, 1,552 cases of pregnancies of minors 14 years old or younger were recorded nationwide, with the majority of cases coming from the departments of Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, San Marcos, and Peten. The secretary estimated that 80 percent of these cases were due to intrafamily sexual abuse. SVET launched a press campaign with special events and training sessions in rural areas to combat pregnancy of minors.

The Secretariat of Social Welfare, which oversees children’s treatment, training, special education, and welfare programs, provided shelter and assistance to children who were victims of abuse but sometimes placed children in shelters with juveniles who had criminal records. The government operated a shelter for minor victims of violence, abandonment, and exploitation in San Jose Pinula and in two temporary shelters in Quetzaltenango and Zacapa. SVET had shelters for victims of human trafficking and sexual violence in Coatepeque, Coban, and Guatemala City.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. In 2015 Congress eliminated a provision that previously allowed girls to marry at 14 and boys at 16 with parental consent. There were reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF reported that 30 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014. In an effort to identify cases of early and forced marriage, the government instituted nationwide training programs and protocols to encourage public employees to report pregnancies and childbirth among underage mothers.

The NGO Childhood Refuge reported an estimated 15,000 irregular marriages of minors had occurred since 2015, 70 percent of which took place in the western part of the country. Given the change in law raising the minimum age for marriage, the NGO also reported an increase of informal unions involving minors, which essentially functioned as marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The Public Ministry reported several complaints of sexual assault or rape against minors and successfully prosecuted some aggressors. The Ministry’s Office of Trafficking increased the number of investigators and prosecutors to respond to the sexual exploitation of minors, including opening an office dedicated to cybercrime. SVET broadened its coordination role by engaging directly with municipal governments and mayors to educate them on combatting sexual abuse, child abuse, and trafficking.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, with credible reports of child sex tourism in Antigua, Guatemala City, and the Department of Solola.

According to figures for 2016 released by the Public Ministry’s Office of Special Prosecutor for Children, authorities received 5,257 reports of sexual violence against minors and youth up to 19 years of age by mid-September. It received 47 reports of sexual exploitation involving minors and 141 reports of trafficking in persons.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities. According to law enforcement sources, there were approximately 15,500 Barrio 18 gang members and 13,950 Mara Salvatrucha gang members. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported that 74 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide between January and March, a significant increase from 2015. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youth reported that youth detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

A significant number of unaccompanied children attempted to leave the country. Polling indicated that the primary motivations for migration were a lack of economic and educational opportunity in the country, fear of violence, and family reunification. NGOs reported that the Secretariat of Social Welfare (SBS), which is responsible for the care of both returned migrant children and unaccompanied foreign migrant children, reported two cases of sexual abuse of children under its care during the year. The cases highlighted the persistent problem of overcrowding in shelters, along with security issues. For instance, according to PDH, 44 minors disappeared from secured SBS shelters from September to mid-November. One NGO provided shelter and comprehensive social services for unaccompanied foreign migrant children.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. During a May protest against Energuate, a power distribution company purchased in December 2015 by a company with connections to Israel, protesters used a banner that had an image of Jesus Christ and stated, “Jews killed me on the cross. Now Jews from Energuate are killing my people in Guatemala with energy.” Jewish community leaders filed a complaint with the PDH, which pursued the case in court. During the summer the protesting group and the Jewish community settled the matter out of court with a formal apology from the protesting group.

In June the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, was placed under house arrest during his trial for abuse of authority and discrimination for his involvement in the expulsion of members of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor in 2014.

In September authorities raided the homes of the Lev Tahor community in Guatemala City. Authorities stated they were investigating reports of child abuse; however, they found no evidence. Lev Tahor members claimed they were persecuted because of their faith.

Trafficking in Persons

Late in 2015 Congress passed an antihuman smuggling law that designated migration-related smuggling as a crime. See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications. The government devoted few resources to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported that few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There were minimal educational resources for persons with disabilities. Most universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. The Social Development Ministry had 23 employees with disabilities, but other ministries had very few, or no, such employees. During the year a previously ad hoc congressional committee on disabilities became permanent.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities began a nationwide survey to estimate the number of persons with disabilities. It also signed cooperation agreements with various ministries including the Public Ministry and the Secretariat of Women’s Issues to address the needs of persons with disabilities in their infrastructure, services, and programs.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. It fired several employees in 2015 after disability advocates and media reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Despite the staff changes, disability rights organizations noted little else had changed.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated that indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. Many experts believed the number was considerably higher. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status under national law.

Indigenous representatives claimed that actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not regularly or adequately consulted or able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. During the year courts suspended the operating licenses of several hydroelectric and mining projects for not complying with requirements for consultations with indigenous communities as required under International Labor Organization Convention (ILO) 169, recognizing the convention’s requirement that the government must play a role in the process. Previously, businesses had carried out consultations independently without government oversight. The government was working to design a more thorough consultations process consistent with ILO standards.

Indigenous communities continued to report a lack of public infrastructure investment in their communities, resulting in poor roads and limited access to running water and electricity. Indigenous persons reported the need for schools with bilingual (i.e., Spanish and their indigenous language) education and cultural studies; educational scholarships; leadership training to increase indigenous persons’ participation in politics; and the construction of universities (not only extension campuses), hospitals, and health clinics in their communities.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. These factors contributed to continued disproportionate poverty among most indigenous populations.

In April the governor of Alta Verapaz, Estela Ventura, who is of indigenous descent, filed a criminal complaint against eight members of Congress on the grounds of harassment, racial discrimination, and influence peddling. The governor claimed to have recordings in which the representatives used racial slurs against her in a meeting. On August 31, a judge agreed to remove immunity for the eight representatives in order to open a full investigation.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that pervasive ignorance by security authorities of indigenous norms and practices engendered misunderstandings. The government located three police academies in largely indigenous areas of the country to increase the number of indigenous police officers and assign them to work within their own ethnic or linguistic communities.

The Department of Indigenous People in the Ministry of Labor, tasked with investigating cases of discrimination and representing indigenous rights, counseled indigenous persons on their rights. Limited resources hindered the department’s effectiveness. Indigenous persons were particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking.

The justice system significantly increased the number of legally mandated court interpreters for criminal proceedings and reported that it held 8,000 court proceedings in Mayan languages through August. Despite the increase, availability did not meet demand.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI individuals. LGBTI rights groups alleged that police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals they believed to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government undertook minimal efforts to address this discrimination. After being elected as president of the country’s first congressional women’s caucus in September, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, Sandra Moran, was subject to discrimination in the form of an online petition that demanded her removal due to her LGBTI status. Moran filed a complaint with the PDH.

According to LGBTI rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. A lack of trust in the judicial system and a fear of further harassment or social recrimination discouraged victims from filing complaints. NGOs conducted sensitization training classes with police officials but noted that the number of trained officials remained low. The National Police and Public Ministry changed their complaint registration systems to include a field identifying whether the complainant is a member of the LGBTI community. Due to general fears of discrimination, few LGBTI community members were comfortable self-identifying to officials.

LGBTI groups claimed that women experienced specific forms of discrimination such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through so-called corrective rape, although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities.

The Public Ministry and SVET took up the first case of trafficking in persons involving transgender individuals, rescuing and treating several victims and returning them to their home countries. The National Registry circulated an internal memo on nondiscrimination against the LGBTI community, although officials still barred transgender individuals from obtaining identification documents that reflected a different gender. Transgender individuals continued to face severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law does not expressly include HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forms of discrimination included being required by government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition, HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving treatment in public hospitals and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was particularly pronounced and affected their access to HIV-prevention programs.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported that in the first three months of the year, five persons were killed in public lynchings, and 26 were injured. Many observers attributed the acts to public frustration with the failure of police and judicial authorities to provide justice and security. As a result local citizen security groups were formed and operated autonomously. In many instances PNC agents feared for their own safety and refused to intervene. In August a mob in Patulul set fire to and killed a man arrested as an alleged extortionist who had participated in the shooting of a microbus driver.

Honduras

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women and impunity for perpetrators continued to be a serious problem. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported 222 violent deaths of women in the first six months of the year, compared with 478 violent deaths of women during 2015.

Rape was a serious and pervasive societal problem. The law criminalizes all forms of rape, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. Prosecutors treat accusations of spousal rape somewhat differently, however, and evaluate such charges on a case-by-case basis. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties. Rape continued to be underreported, however, due to fear of stigma, retribution, and further violence. The Center for Women’s Rights (CDM) reported that 2,774 women and girls reported sexual crimes to the Public Ministry in 2015. As of October the Public Ministry’s Office of Crimes Against Women had received 1,172 formal complaints of domestic violence and provided 2,989 legal consultations. The CDM also reported that the Public Ministry’s General Directorate for Forensic Medicine conducted 3,022 examinations of sexual violence survivors in 2015, a 40 percent increase over 2014. According to reports from victims, 73 percent of attackers were family members or other individuals the victims knew.

Violence between domestic and intimate partners continued to be widespread. The law provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence; however, if a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the only legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of intra-familial violence. In many cases victims were reluctant to press charges against their abusers because of economic dependence on their male partners, their roles in caring for children, and a lack of domestic violence shelters. The CDM reported that 18,070 women filed complaints of domestic violence in special domestic violence courts in 2015.

The government provided services to victims of domestic violence in hospitals and health centers. The national government provided space through September for an NGO in Tegucigalpa to run a shelter, and provided police protection. Local governments, in cooperation with NGOs, operated domestic violence shelters in San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, La Ceiba, and Juticalpa; they also had an office in Comayagua. NGOs operated their own small shelters in Santa Rosa de Copan and Comayagua. The government did not provide enough financial and other resources for these facilities to operate effectively.

In cooperation with the UN Development Program, the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices–one in each municipality–that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence. The quantity and quality of services that these offices provided was uneven. CONADEH reported that in 2015, 37 percent of the 3,372 complaints it received for violations of women’s rights were for domestic violence, 22 percent were for lack of access to justice and due process, and 41 percent were for alleged violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.

In March 2015 the UN special rapporteur on violence against women expressed concern that most women in the country remained marginalized, discriminated against, and at high risk of being subjected to human rights violations, including violence and violations of their sexual and reproductive rights. UN Women reported in 2015 that violent deaths of women and girls, domestic violence, and sexual violence in all forms increased steadily from 2005 to 2014, but UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported a drop in violent deaths of women between 2013 (636 deaths) and the first six months of the year (222 deaths).

Sexual Harassment: Both the penal and labor codes criminalize various forms of sexual harassment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a serious societal problem but was underreported because of fear of stigma and reprisal. The CDM reported that 94 women filed complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace in 2015. The Supreme Court reported receiving only two cases of sexual harassment in 2015 and none in the first six months of the year. In that time one case was brought to trial, four cases were dismissed, two provisionally dismissed, and one case resolved through mediation.

Reproductive Rights: Generally, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to UN estimates, maternal mortality was approximately 129 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was 1 in 300. Although 83 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that there were significant gaps in emergency obstetric care.

The Ministry of Health also worked to expand the provision of family planning services in rural and low-income areas. UNFPA estimated in 2015 that 64 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern contraceptive method, and 11 percent of women had an unmet family planning need. Family planning supplies continued to be limited by shortages and insufficient funding.

There were reports of forced sterilizations of women with HIV, according to the International AIDS Society.

NGOs criticized a 2009 prohibition on emergency contraception medication, which they claimed abridged a woman’s right to make family planning decisions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, selling, distributing, or using emergency contraception carried the same punishments as performing or obtaining abortion, for which the Center for Reproductive Rights reported that women can be sentenced to three to six years in prison; no cases of enforcement were known to be reported.

Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights. On July 11, the CESCR expressed concern that women living in rural areas, indigenous women, and women of African descent continued to be victims of multiple and cross-sectoral forms of discrimination, as reflected in their high rates of poverty. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. Women participated in small numbers in most professions, but cultural attitudes limited their career opportunities. Women participated in the formal labor force at approximately one-half the rate of men. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities. The law requires that employers pay women equal wages for equal work, but often classified women’s jobs as less demanding than those of men to justify women’s lower salaries. Job seekers older than age 30, particularly women, faced age discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization. Although birth registration was widely available in 2015, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that, according to the National Population and Housing Census of 2013, an estimated 65,000 children did not have birth registration documents. The largest numbers of unregistered children were in indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities. UNICEF assisted the government in extending civil registries to indigenous and remote communities, and, as of 2015, the government had 217 automated registration offices. Only seven registration offices lacked automation, all of them located in isolated areas that lacked electricity.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through the 12th grade, although high school students had to pay fees. There was a shortage of middle schools and adequately prepared teachers. According to 2013 census data, girls generally attended at a higher rate than boys did, a gap that widened after age 12. By age 15 there were 6 percent fewer boys in school than girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported 412 cases of mistreatment and abandonment of children in 2015. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse.

The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 570 children–88 girls and 482 boys–in 2015, a 9 percent decrease from 2014. NGOs stated that these figures probably underestimated the number of crimes against children. As of July the children’s rights organization, Casa Alianza, reported the homicides and violent deaths of 147 children; there were no arrests in 80 percent of these cases. The Violence Observatory reported 117 such homicides, a more than 50 percent decrease from 2015. Casa Alianza said the homicides often involved torture, strangulation, and dumping bodies in remote areas. While there were some improvements in the overall security situation, there were reports that police committed acts of violence against poor youths. Human rights groups continued to allege that private citizens and individual members of the security forces used unwarranted lethal force against youths.

Because the country’s antigang legislation specifies lower penalties for minors, gangs continued to employ underage youth in their operations. Children from eight to 12 years old frequently worked as lookouts and collected “war taxes” (that is, extortion payments). Consequently, rival gangs often disputed recruiting areas around schools.

Five street children between the ages of 13 and 16, who were working without authorization to collect and recycle garbage, were killed on February 11 in Tegucigalpa. Media reported that gang members were presumed responsible for the deaths.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 21, although with parental consent boys may marry at 18 and girls at 16. According to government statistics, 10 percent of women marry before age 15 and 37 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in prostitution, continued to be a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor under age 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison. The penalty is nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child prostitution are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($44,000 to $110,000). The law prohibits the use of children under 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children lived on the streets. Casa Alianza estimated there were more than 8,800 street children in major cities. Between September 2015 and August, Casa Alianza assisted 256 street children, 38 more than in the previous 12 months. During the same period, the organization assisted 400 children in its shelters and helped 75 children reintegrate with their families.

Polling indicated that lack of economic and educational opportunities, fear of violence, and the desire for family reunification motivated children to seek to emigrate. One civil society organization reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized crime, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic illness. Casa Alianza reported that as of July 4, the Belen migrant attention center in San Pedro Sula had processed 417 youths deported from Mexico. Casa Alianza identified 261 of these youths as persons displaced by violence.

Institutionalized Children: Between January 2015 and September 2016, at least 10 juveniles were killed while in detention in government facilities, nine of them in the Renaciendo center. CONAPREV reported four incidents at Renaciendo as of August, including violence between members of MS-18 and another gang, Los Chirizos, resulting in the deaths of two minors affiliated with Los Chirizos and injuries to 11 other detainees.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, located primarily in San Pedro Sula, numbered several hundred. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, access to the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. Enforcement in the area of employment is the responsibility of the Secretariat of State for Labor and Social Security (STSS), but was not effective due to the STSS’s limited resources and its focus on workplace safety and pay. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The law includes provisions for inclusive education of students with disabilities. In June the Ministry of Education reported that there were 63,148 students with disabilities in the school system. Also in June the National Federation of Parents of Individuals with Disabilities in Honduras signed an agreement with the ministry to work together to monitor and evaluate the ministry’s Institutional Management Plan for Universal Access to Educational Facilities. The ministry agreed to devote one-third of new teaching positions to facilities that have children with disabilities. In July the ministry announced that more than 6,000 educational centers had conducted analyses of access for children with disabilities and that it would use these analyses to assign necessary staff in 2017. An additional 1,725 educational centers in seven departments had conducted accessibility studies and created accessibility plans. On August 26, the ministry announced it had filled 349 staff positions, including more than 200 new technical assistant positions, in schools having children with disabilities and in indigenous communities. Some parents filed complaints against schools that allegedly refused to register students with disabilities. In 2014 CONADEH estimated that 27 percent of economically active individuals with disabilities had no education and 56 percent had only a primary education.

The government continued to struggle to implement its policy on persons with disabilities. The government had a disabilities unit in the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups including the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

According to government data, 89 percent of indigenous and Afro-descendent children lived in poverty, 78 percent of them in extreme poverty. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns about persistent poverty among indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, as well as their social exclusion. It noted in particular that women in Afro-Honduran and indigenous communities faced multiple forms of discrimination in all aspects of social, political, and economic life. On April 11, the government adopted a Policy against Racism and Racial Discrimination for the Comprehensive Development of the Indigenous and African-Honduran Populations.

The 2013 census reported that 15 percent of male and 17.5 percent of female indigenous persons 10 years and older had no education. The National Institute of Statistics estimated in 2015 that 21 percent of the general population was illiterate, with an illiteracy rate of 36 percent among those ages 60 and over. Illiteracy rates were more than double that in rural areas. Sixty percent of indigenous respondents above the age of 10 reported having a sixth-grade education or less. The Directorate General for Intercultural Multilingual Education began operating in 2013 with a mission to expand educational opportunities in both Spanish and local languages. In 2015 the Ministry of Education increased by 48,000, to 119,000, the number of students educated in bilingual schools that teach in both Spanish and a local language.

Indigenous People

On July 21, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples categorized the situation of the indigenous peoples of the country as critical. She stated that their rights over their lands, territories, and natural resources were not protected, that they faced acts of violence when claiming their rights in a general environment of violence and impunity, and that they lacked access to justice. Additionally, they suffered from inequality, poverty, and a lack of basic social services such as education and healthcare.

On March 3, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres was killed in her home. At the time of her death, Caceres was leading opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Intibuca Department. She was granted protective measures from the IACHR and some protective services from the government. In May the government arrested four individuals for involvement in her death. Subsequently, authorities arrested two additional suspects. As of December 20, all six remained in custody pending trial following initial evidentiary hearings. As of December human rights groups, indigenous groups, and members of the Caceres family continued to press authorities to identify and arrest those that ordered her murder, whom they suspected were still at large.

Two of those arrested had links to Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), the company constructing the dam. Some local community members, including Caceres, opposed the project and claimed that the government had failed to consult appropriately with the indigenous Lenca community as required under International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169; they also criticized DESA for failing to consult with the indigenous community. Other community members, however, supported the project as a source of local employment and development. Although the country has no law defining how to implement ILO 169, in August the Public Ministry began criminal proceedings against the former vice minister of the environment who awarded the concession for the project and against the mayor of the town where it was set to be built. The Public Ministry accused them of abuse of authority and failure to abide by the international obligations of ILO 169. In November a judge ordered another former vice minister of the environment held without bail pending trial for abuse of authority and failure to abide by the international obligations of ILO 169 when authorizing changes to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.

Other indigenous and environmental rights activists also reported threats and acts of violence against them. Ana Mirian Romero of the Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz reported receiving death threats and said someone burned her house down. Caceres’ organization, COPINH, reported threats and violence against other members as well. The government took some steps to investigate and arrest those responsible for the violence.

As of September the government was in discussions with indigenous communities over a bill that would regulate prior consultation under ILO 169. As of early November, COPINH and Garifuna indigenous organization OFRANEH decided not to participate in the discussions and instead supported a separate bill presented in Congress earlier in the year. On July 11, CESCR expressed concerns about reports that the government had failed to respect indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation. CESCR insisted that such consultations were necessary to obtain these communities’ input on decisions that could affect them, including when negotiating concessions for the exploitation of natural resources or other development projects.

Communal ownership was the norm for most indigenous land, providing land-use rights for individual members of the community. Documents dating to the mid-19th century defined indigenous land titles poorly. The government continued its efforts to recognize indigenous titles. Lack of clear land titles provoked land use conflicts with nonindigenous agricultural laborers, businesses, and government entities interested in developing coastlines, forests, areas rich in mineral resources, and other lands that indigenous and other ethnic minority communities traditionally occupied or used. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s alleged complicity in the exploitation of timber and other natural resources on these lands. Indigenous leaders continued to allege that indigenous and nonindigenous groups smuggled drugs and other contraband through their lands and illegally appropriated vast areas of their communal lands.

In October 2015 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of two Garifuna communities that had accused the government of violating their rights by failing to protect their communities’ land from exploitation. As of December, the government was working to create a mechanism to address the ramifications of these rulings.

The government formally recognized nine indigenous and Afro-descendent communities and continued efforts to address indigenous land rights problems. In April the government completed the transfer of land titles to the 12 Miskito territorial councils, including two titles to land in the Rio Platano biosphere. Since 2012 the territorial councils received titles to more than 5,400 square miles, 12 percent of the country’s territory. NGOs helped indigenous communities negotiate with the government and establish their juridical identities.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services.

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

The law states that sexual orientation and gender identity characteristics merit special protection from discrimination and includes these characteristics in a hate crimes amendment to the penal code. Nevertheless, social discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread. As of October the special prosecutor for human rights was investigating nine formal complaints of discrimination by members of the LGBTI community in previous years. Representatives of NGOs that focused on the right to sexual diversity alleged that the PMOP and other elements of the security forces harassed and abused members of the community. As of August the NGO Colectivo Color Rosa reported 11 violent deaths of LGBTI persons, similar to levels in previous years. In October the Public Ministry reported records of 218 cases of violent deaths of LGBTI individuals since 2009, of which 14 cases had resulted in convictions and 171 were still under investigation. NGOs also documented multiple instances of assaults and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community.

On June 2, prominent LGBTI activist and community leader Rene Martinez was killed. Martinez was an activist in the ruling National Party, the president of an LGBTI association in San Pedro Sula, the leader of a local community council, and a volunteer with a community-based violence prevention program. As of early August, the VCTF continued to investigate the case. It was uncertain whether his death was related to his LGBTI status or political activities.

LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. LGBTI groups continued working with the VCTF, the Ministry of Security, and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption.

In April the HNP assigned 30 new agents to the VCTF, bringing the total to 41 VCTF investigators. As of September the new investigators were going through a training and mentorship phase, after which the HNP would assign them either in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. As of September the VCTF was investigating 17 homicides of members of the LGBTI community. The VCTF arrested two suspects from cases initiated during the year and one suspect from a case initiated in 2015.

The HNP took steps to educate personnel to respond more effectively to cases of gender-based violence and violence against LGBTI persons. The Criminal Investigations School (EIC) designed two new police education modules, one on gender-based violence awareness and the other on LGBTI violence reduction. These modules were included in all EIC courses for recruits beginning on August 22.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Access to employment, educational opportunities, and health services continued to be major challenges for persons with HIV/AIDS. One civil society organization reported that three members of the LGBTI community died of gunshot wounds after medical personnel refused to treat them because they would not submit to HIV tests. Community members reported that transgender women were particularly vulnerable to discrimination, and that many could find employment only as sex workers.

Nicaragua

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused. Sentences for those convicted of rape range from eight to 12 years, or 15 years in cases of aggravated rape. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides prison sentences ranging from one to 12 years. The government failed to enforce the law effectively, leading to widespread impunity and reports of increased violence from released offenders emboldened by their release. Many women were reluctant to report abuse due to enforced medical examinations for survivors of rape and other sexual crimes, social stigma, fear of retribution, impunity for perpetrators, and loss of economic security if abusive spouses were jailed. While the law provides for the issuance of restraining orders, problems in their effective enforcement continued. Observers reported a general increase in sexual crimes against women compared with 2015. The NNP reported 1,458 cases of rape and aggravated rape and 862 cases of sexual abuse in 2015, the most recent data available. The Institute of Legal Medicine within the judicial branch, however, reported investigating 5,596 incidents of sexual violence in 2015, constituting more than 7 percent of their investigations. There were no comprehensive statistics available on prosecutions or convictions. Human rights organizations and women’s rights groups alleged that many of the early releases of recent years (see section 1.c.) were of men who had been convicted of attacking women, but these claims could not be verified.

Violence against women remained high, according to domestic NGO reports. The NGO Catholics for the Right to Decide reported that between January and July, 41 women were killed, many of whom were raped, beaten, or maimed. NGOs working on women’s issues reported an increase in the severity of these crimes over the past seven years. Women’s rights organizations claimed police generally understated the level of violence against women. For example, in 2015 the NNP recognized 16 femicides, while the NGO Network of Women Against Violence reported 53 that year. Women’s rights NGOs continued to protest the presidential decree on regulations for the Comprehensive Law (Law 779) on Violence Against Women, which encompasses the legal protections for women against violence, because it dilutes protections found in the law.

NNP commissariats were established in 1993 as independent offices designed to provide social and legal help to women, mediate spousal conflicts, investigate and help prosecute criminal complaints, and refer victims to other governmental and nongovernmental assistance agencies. Observers and assistance providers, however, reported that the NNP no longer operated these women’s commissariats and instead had placed them and the investigation of these types of crimes with either regular police or the DAJ. Women’s rights organizations claimed that NGOs or family members were barred from accompanying women when reporting domestic violence or sexual assaults and that the burden of gathering proof of the crime was often placed on the victim. Women’s groups asserted the modest number of shelters (two government and 11 nongovernmental) was inadequate, especially on the Caribbean Coast, where only one shelter (nongovernmental) operated in the RACN.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and those convicted face one- to three-year sentences in prison, or three to five years if the victim is under 18 years old. Observers believed sexual harassment likely was underreported due to the failure of authorities to consider the abuse seriously and victims’ fear of retribution.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The 2015 World Health Organization figures estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 150 deaths per 100,000 live births. Women in some areas, such as the RACN and the RACS, did not have widespread access to medical care or programs, and maternal death was more likely to affect poor rural women than their urban counterparts.

Emergency health care was generally provided, but in some cases women were afraid to seek medical treatment for post abortion obstetric emergencies, due to a “no exceptions” ban on abortion. Observers noted the Ministry of Health continued to make progress in quality, coverage, distribution, and usage of contraceptives through successful family planning programs.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality. Nevertheless, women often experienced discrimination in employment, credit, and pay equity for similar work, as well as in owning and managing businesses. Women were much less likely to be senior officials or managers. Authorities often discriminated in property matters against poor women who lacked birth certificates or identity cards. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s special prosecutor for women and the Nicaraguan Women’s Ministry, the government entities responsible for protecting women’s rights, had limited effectiveness.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Local civil registries register births within 12 months; however, many persons, especially in rural areas, lacked birth certificates. Persons without citizenship documents were unable to obtain national identity cards and consequently had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership.

The government continued to register newborns through service desks in public hospitals and through “social-promoter” programs that visited rural neighborhoods. MiFamilia, the Civil Registry, and, to a lesser extent, the CSE are responsible for registering births, but they did not make data available.

Child Abuse: The NNP reported that in 2015, the most recent period for which data was available, authorities received 889 complaints of sex crimes against adolescent girls. Human rights groups expressed concern over levels of child pregnancy throughout the country. High rates of sexual violence against teenage girls contributed to teenage pregnancy rates, according to Plan International.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for men and women, or 16 with parental authorization. There were credible reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. The UN Children’s Fund’s 2016 State of the World’s Children reported that 41 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were married or in a union by age 18 and 10 percent were married by age 15. No information was available on government efforts to address or prevent forced and early marriage, and some advocates claimed the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Trafficking in Persons Law, which came into effect in 2015, prohibits sexual exploitation in general and designates enticing children or adolescents to engage in sexual activity as an aggravating condition. The government generally enforced the law when pertaining to child prostitution. Penalties include 10 to 15 years in prison for a person who entices or forces any individual to engage in sexual activity, and 19 to 20 years in prison for the same acts involving children or adolescents. The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with children who are 14 or younger. Several NGOs reported sexual exploitation of young girls was common, as was the prevalence of older men (including foreigners) who exploited young girls under the guise of providing them support.

The law also prohibits child pornography, and the government generally enforced this law. The penalty for an individual convicted of inducing, facilitating, promoting, or using a minor for sexual or erotic purposes is 10 to 15 years in prison.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The law imposes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for convicted child-sex tourists. There were anecdotal reports of child-sex tourism in the Granada, Rivas, Chinandega, and Managua departments; there were no officially reported cases.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation, the recognized Jewish community in Nicaragua numbered approximately 50 members. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but such discrimination was widespread in education, transportation, access to health care, the provision of state services, and employment. Laws related to persons with disabilities do not stipulate penalties for noncompliance, although penalties may be issued under the general labor inspection code. MiFamilia, the Ministry of Labor, and the PDDH are among government agencies responsible for the protection and advancement of rights of persons with disabilities. The government did not enforce the law effectively; did not mandate accessibility to buildings, information, and communications; and did not make information available on efforts to improve respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. Independent media reported that persons with disabilities accounted for less than 1 percent of public sector employees, despite the legally mandated minimum representation of 2 percent. Further reports indicated that public institutions did not sufficiently coordinate with the Labor Ministry to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace.

Persons with disabilities faced severe problems accessing schools, public health facilities, and other public institutions. Many voting facilities were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Complaints continued regarding the lack of accessible public transportation in Managua. While some buses were accessible, drivers of these buses reportedly either refused to stop to allow persons with disabilities to board or intentionally broke lift and ramp equipment. The press reported that the Managua Mayor’s Office sponsored training for bus drivers through transportation cooperatives. The PDDH special prosecutor for disability rights was active throughout the year. Government clinics and hospitals provided care for veterans and other persons with disabilities, but the quality of care generally was poor.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Various indigenous and other ethnic groups from the RACN and the RACS attributed the lack of government resources devoted to the Caribbean Coast to discriminatory attitudes toward the ethnic and racial minorities in those regions. While the racial makeup of the RACN and the RACS historically has been Afro-descendent and Amerindian, increasing migration from the interior and Pacific Coast of the country made these groups a minority in many areas.

Exclusionary treatment based on race, skin color, and ethnicity was common, especially in higher-income urban areas. Darker-skinned persons of African descent from the RACN and the RACS, along with others assumed to be from those areas experienced discrimination, such as extra security measures and illegal searches by police.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people constituted approximately 5 percent of the population and lived primarily in the RACN and the RACS. They often did not participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions or the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands. Individuals from five major indigenous groups–the Miskito, Sumo/Mayangna, Garifuna (of Afro-Amerindian origin), Creole, and Rama–alleged government discrimination through underrepresentation in the legislative branch.

Indigenous people from rural areas often lacked birth certificates, identity cards, and land titles. Although they formed political groups, these often held little influence and were ignored or used by major national parties to advance the latter’s own agendas. Most indigenous people in rural areas lacked access to public services, and deteriorating roads made medicine and health care almost unobtainable for many. The rates of unemployment, illiteracy, and truancy were among the highest in the country. Some indigenous groups continued to lack educational materials in their native languages and relied on Spanish-language texts provided by the national government.

NGOs and indigenous rights groups claimed the government failed to protect the civil and political rights of indigenous communities. Some observers alleged government involvement in the violence against Miskito populations in the RACN along the Coco River, either as a result of inaction or more directly as accomplices to nonindigenous groups invading indigenous lands. According to media reports and local indigenous groups, violence resulted in as many as 40 deaths between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, including two beheadings, and accounted for the displacement of as many as 1,000 persons into neighboring towns, such as Bilwi, and across the border into Honduras. The IACHR issued three separate precautionary measures in response to the violence. The government largely ignored the issuances but answered one precautionary measure in a public letter; however, it failed to address potential solutions.

Indigenous women faced multiple levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender, and lower economic status.

The National Commission of Demarcation and Titling, Attorney General’s Office, and Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies did not make any progress in demarcating indigenous lands. Additionally, the government failed to relocate or remove nonindigenous populations from ancestral indigenous lands, leading to significant violence throughout the year, specifically in the RACN.

Representatives of autonomous regions and indigenous communities regularly noted the government failed to invest in infrastructure. Throughout the year indigenous leaders alleged regional and national governments granted logging concessions to private firms and government-affiliated businesses, such as ALBA-Forestal, and logging continued in violation of national autonomy laws in the RACS and the RACN.

Indigenous groups were increasingly concerned about violations of their rights in connection with plans to build an interoceanic canal. Many allege that the concession to do so was granted illegally and without the required consultations with the indigenous community. For example, while the president of the Rama-Creole government had signed an authorization for the canal to be built on Rama-Creole land, members of the indigenous territorial government had not consented to his doing so. Indigenous groups, moreover, are not members of the Grand Canal Authority, which oversees the implementation of the canal project and was also established without consultations. There were a limited number of presentations on the canal to indigenous populations, but groups claim these were inadequate.

Violations of indigenous lands continued in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, RACN, according to press reports. The Mayangna indigenous group, which has territorial rights to much of the Bosawas Reserve, strongly criticized the government’s unwillingness to prevent alleged land grabs by nonindigenous settlers, as well as illegal logging and other exploitation of natural resources. This also occurred regularly in the Indio Maiz Reserve.

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

Although sexual orientation is not mentioned specifically, the law states all persons are equal before the law and provides for the right to equal protection. LGBTI persons, however, continued to face widespread societal discrimination and abuse, particularly in housing, education, and employment. The LGBTI community generally believed the special prosecutor for sexual diversity had insufficient resources. No specific laws exist to punish hate crimes against LGBTI groups. The family code, a set of laws pertaining to family-related matters, establishes that a family comprises a man and a woman joined in marriage or common-law marriage. This discriminatory definition most affected the LGBTI community in the areas of adoption and access to social security benefits.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides specific protections for persons with HIV/AIDS against discrimination in employment and health services, but such persons continued to suffer societal discrimination. Although some improvements were recognized among health-care workers after training, a lack of awareness and education persisted in that sector and in the public generally regarding the prevention, treatment, and transmission of HIV/AIDS.

A nondiscrimination administrative resolution issued by the Ministry of Health establishes methods to file complaints against health workers in cases of discrimination against persons working in prostitution, HIV/AIDS patients, or on the basis of gender orientation. The resolution also establishes sanctions for health workers found to have discriminated against patients for these reasons.

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