Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law allows for sentences of three to 16 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and allows sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of domestic violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were sometimes difficult to enforce.
The government further implemented the gender-based violence law, which builds on existing legislation on domestic violence. The law includes abuse that is physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, based on prejudice for sexual orientation, economic, related to assets, symbolic, obstetric, labor-related, educational, political, or related to media presence. It also includes street sexual harassment and femicide. The law aims to create an institutional response system and establishes specialized courts. It sets minimum standards of support and assistance to be provided by the government, to include shelters for the victims and immediate family members. The law attempts to avoid revictimization in social and legal procedures and seeks to make the judicial process more agile. According to civil society representatives, the law was not being fully implemented due in part to lack of resources. For example, specialized courts provided by the gender law were not established; however, civil society representatives recognized that judges in nonspecialized courts applied criminal definitions included in the new law. NGO representatives underlined the need for more expert training and the need to include gender-based violence in the university curriculum, especially in the health sector.
The criminal procedure code introduced changes to victims’ rights, including guarantees and services during the process, and the creation of a Victims and Witnesses Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Since its establishment, the unit had focused more than 50 percent of its work on victims of gender-based violence. Civil society representatives saw this as a significant improvement for victims, who received support and guidance during criminal proceedings.
A separate femicide law modifies aggravating circumstances for a homicide to include whether the crime “caused the death of a female due to motive of hate or contempt.” The law’s explanatory statement describes femicide as arising from a structural inequality between women and men that uses gender-based violence as a mechanism to oppress women.
The government maintained a Gender-Based Violence Observatory to monitor, collect, register, and analyze data on gender-based violence. During the year the Interior Ministry acquired 700 more electronic anklets, reaching 1,500 anklets in total. The government trained officials on aspects of gender-based violence and sexual assault.
The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU), and NGOs operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. Civil society reported shelters for victims were of good quality, but capacity was insufficient. The ministry also funded the lodging of victims in hotels. The Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Housing operated a program that funded two-year leases for approximately 100 victims, pending more permanent housing solutions. According to NGO representatives, immediate and first-response services focused more on providing advice than on offering close and daily support to victims, mainly due to a lack of staffing. Services for victims in the interior of the country were scarcer and more difficult to access, especially for women in isolated rural areas. The Ministry for Social Development and the state-owned telephone company, Antel, maintained a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence. Victims could also file a report online or at a police station.
The government’s 2016-19 action plan to combat gender-based violence provided for interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants. The Prosecutor General’s Office has a specialized gender unit that incorporated greater awareness of gender as it relates to matters of justice, promoted respect for women’s rights, combated violence, and enhanced interagency coordination. The Ministry of Interior’s gender unit seeks to ensure a clear policy on gender-based violence in police forces and trains police staff to handle and respond to cases. The omnibus reform bill passed in July established the creation of a National Gender Policies Directorate within the Ministry of Interior. The Prosecutor General’s Office has special prosecutorial teams to investigate and prosecute gender-based violence cases, separate from those working on domestic violence cases. These units focus on the various forms of violence defined in the new law as well as human trafficking cases.
There is also a National Gender Council headed by the Women’s Institute (Inmujeres) of the Ministry of Social Development and with representatives of 26 government and nongovernmental bodies, including the 12 ministries, judicial branch, health administration, INDDHH, academia, civil society, and other actors. The aim of the council is to contribute to the design, assessment, and implementation of policies with a gendered perspective. The council met in an extraordinary session after the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis to address effects of the pandemic on domestic violence victims. In June it had its first ordinary session, to establish the lines of effort for the 2020-25 period, which would focus on gender-based violence, financial independence of women, decentralization of gender policies, and participation of women in decision-making positions.
With the coronavirus outbreak in March and the resulting isolation measures implemented by the government, civil society began a public messaging campaign warning about the increased risk of gender-based violence and domestic violence victims resulting from confinement. Authorities of the Women’s Institute under the Ministry of Social Development initially detected a drop in reports during the first two weeks of isolation, with a sharp increase after the third week. Measures adopted by the government included strengthening support hotlines, conducting awareness-raising campaigns about reporting channels available, and encouraging the population to be alert to possible abuse cases in their communities. The Ministry of Health designed a protocol to help health staff visiting homes and working in emergency rooms to detect and report possible cases of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Interior and its Gender Policies Division worked to ensure 911 response was available for gender-based violence cases and announced reporting channels for abuses. In addition the Ministry of Social Development increased slots in shelters for mothers with children, and the judicial branch automatically extended precautionary measures that were close to expiration, such as restraining orders that use electronic monitoring anklets.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for victims. The Ministry of Labor received reports of sexual harassment, its inspectors investigated claims of sexual harassment, and the ministry issued fines as necessary.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides that couples and individuals can decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children.
Under the law, individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
The country recognized, protected, and promoted sexual and reproductive rights without discrimination. Challenges remained, however, in the full implementation of these policies, especially in the interior of the country and for marginalized populations. Adolescents, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and Afro-Uruguayans suffered discrimination in fully accessing contraception and reproductive medical care.
The law provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on part of the government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. According to the United Nations, women’s employment was concentrated in a relatively small number of specific occupations and sectors, including services, sales, unskilled labor, domestic work, social services, health services, and education. There are restrictions on women working in factories. According to a study published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and UN Women in August, women experienced a 42 percent decrease in their monthly salary 10 years after having their first child, compared with women in similar circumstances who did not have any children.
During the year the Ministry of Labor’s Tripartite Equal Employment Opportunities Commission promoted the inclusion of gender equality clauses in the negotiations conducted by the wage boards, emphasizing equal pay for equal work of value, equal access to quality jobs and training, elimination of discrimination in selection and promotion processes, and guarantees and protections for maternity and responsibility sharing.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government immediately registered all births.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties vary according to the type of abuse. Penalties for sexual abuse of minors vary between two and 16 years in prison, depending on the gravity of the case. Penalties for the crime of assault range from three months to eight years in prison, and the penalty for domestic violence is from six months to two years in prison. INAU provided a free, nationwide hotline. INAU’s System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents against Violence (SIPIAV), together with NGOs, implemented awareness campaigns, and SIPIAV coordinated interagency efforts on the protection of children’s rights. In March, SIPIAV disseminated to relevant stakeholders a protocol with guidelines for prevention, detection, of violence against children up to age three, and their protection.
The Ministry of Education coordinated efforts to provide child victims of domestic violence with tools to report abuses using their “One Laptop per Child” program computers.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is age 16, but the law requires parental consent through age 18. The law defines forced marriage as a form of exploitation.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Authorities made efforts to enforce the law.
The human trafficking law defines the use, recruitment, or offering of children and adolescents for sexual exploitation as a form of trafficking. The law establishes the minimum age for consensual sex as 12. When a sexual union takes place between an adult (older than age 18) and a minor younger than age 15, violence is presumed and the statutory rape law, which carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison, may be applied. Penalties for sex trafficking range from four to 16 years in prison; penalties were increased by one-third to one-half if the trafficking offense involved a child victim. The penalty for child pornography ranges from one to six years in prison, and the law was effectively enforced. The National Committee for the Eradication of the Commercial and Noncommercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents continued to implement its national action plan for 2016-21.
The alleged suicide of an 18-year-old girl in 2019 prompted an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. The inspection of her cell phone records, which went back to before she turned 18, resulted in the charging of 32 persons for the crime of compensation or offer of compensation in exchange for sexual favors from minors, and to the identification of 18 victims as of September. Most of the accused were businessmen or professionals older than age 50. As of September the first one of the accused was convicted through plea bargaining to three months of house arrest, three months of house arrest at night, 18 months of probation, loss of custody rights to his children, and the payment of a reparation to the victim. This man had only online contact with the victim via the WhatsApp messaging application, not physical contact. The remaining 31 defendants had not yet been tried. As a result of this case, the Prosecutor General’s Office established a special hotline to receive reports of sexual exploitation of minors from victims who had any information.
Institutionalized Children: The NPM reported violations of rights in centers for children and adolescents with disabilities, including their confinement, isolation from their surroundings and communities, and prevention of their inclusion and rehabilitation.
The NPM also reported violation of rights in the temporary processing centers where children or adolescents separated from their families were initially sent for first response, diagnosis, and evaluation. Violations included prolonged stays, overcrowding, stressful confinement conditions, lack of required support staff, and mistreatment.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Central Jewish Committee reported that the Jewish community had an estimated population of 12,000 to 18,000.
Jewish leaders reported acts of anti-Semitism, including verbal harassment and aggressive behavior toward Jewish individuals.
The law protects the rights and prohibits abuse of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. According to the INDDHH, persons with disabilities continued to experience human rights abuses. Persons with disabilities living in both private and government-run facilities were unprotected and vulnerable due to lack of effective mechanisms for supervision. According to an August report on social inclusion published by the World Bank, persons with disabilities faced numerous obstacles, especially in the labor market, education, and public spaces. While the national rate of persons who completed only primary education or less was 40 percent, among persons with disabilities it reached 57 percent, and among persons with severe disabilities it was 72.5 percent. According to the study, only 450 of 1,500 buses in Montevideo were accessible to persons with disabilities, and they operated with limited frequency and in limited areas of the city, significantly restricting mobility of persons with disabilities. The report also emphasized the lack of adequate data to analyze this problem and therefore adequately address the needs of the disability community.
The government did not always effectively enforce provisions for persons with disabilities. Civil society representatives stated there was a general lack of services for persons with disabilities in the country’s interior. The Ministry of Social Development administered several programs that provided assistive devices, temporary housing support, caregiving services, legal assistance, access to transportation, education, vocational training, and employment services.
The law grants children with disabilities the right to attend school (primary, secondary, and higher education). NGOs reported some public schools built after enactment of the law protecting persons with disabilities did not comply with accessibility requirements and usually did not have resources to meet the specific needs of students with disabilities. An international organization reported there were still “special schools” for children with disabilities, resulting in a situation of segregation for these children. An international organization also reported there were very few adolescents with disabilities in secondary education. Ramps built at public elementary and high schools facilitated access, but some government buildings, commercial sites, movie theaters, and other cultural venues as well as many public sidewalks lacked access ramps. NGO representatives reported hospitals and medical services were not always accessible to patients with disabilities. Medical staff often lacked training to deliver primary care and attention to these patients. Plan Ceibal continued to offer adapted laptops to children with disabilities. Open television channels are required by law to have simultaneous sign-language interpretation or subtitles on informational and some other programs, which were included.
The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and government made efforts to enforce the law. Despite this, the country’s Afro-Uruguayan minority continued to face societal discrimination, high levels of poverty, and lower levels of education. According to a World Bank report published in August, Afro-Uruguayans had almost twice the likelihood of residing in informal settlements with the worst social-economic indicators, compared with the general population. The report also stated that although Afro-Uruguayans had access to health care, they were more dependent on the public health provider ASSE than the rest of the population. While 30.5 percent of the population used public health services, the number for Afro-Uruguayans amounted to almost 48 percent. While 63 percent of the population sought prepaid health care from collective medical care institutions, approximately 46 percent of Afro-descendants used these services. Afro-descendants had lower levels of education in general, but the gap was considerably wider for secondary and higher education. The INDDHH and Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination continued to receive complaints of racism. NGOs reported “structural racism” in society and noted the percentage of Afro-Uruguayans working as unskilled laborers was much higher than for other groups.
The National Police Academy, National School for Peacekeeping Operations of Uruguay, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ School of Diplomacy included discrimination awareness training as part of their curricula. The Ministry of Interior organized workshops to review police protocols and procedures involving ethnicity issues for police around the country. The Ministry of Social Development and the interagency antidiscrimination committee held awareness-raising workshops for their staff.
Afro-Uruguayans were underrepresented in government. Two Afro-Uruguayan representatives served in the 130-seat parliament after the October 2019 elections, including the first Afro-Uruguayan to be elected to the Senate. The law grants 8 percent of state jobs to Afro-Uruguayan minority candidates who comply with constitutional and legal requirements, although the required percentage had not been reached. The National Employment Agency is required to include Afro-Uruguayans in its training courses. The law requires all scholarship and student support programs to include a quota for Afro-Uruguayans, and it grants financial benefits to companies that hire them. Nonetheless, the United Nations reported it was difficult to ensure the ethnoracial perspective was included in all scholarship programs to meet the quotas.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Leaders of civil society organizations reported that despite the legal advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues, societal discrimination remained high. NGOs also reported that although the law establishes the right of transgender persons to sex reassignment surgery, this was available only for transgender women (male to female). NGOs reported the commission in charge of name changes was overwhelmed with the workload increase resulting from the new law.
Authorities generally protected the rights of LGBTI persons. According to Amnesty International, however, the country did not have any comprehensive, antidiscrimination policy that protected LGBTI citizens from violence in schools and public spaces or provided for their access to health services. The Latin America and Caribbean Transgender Persons Network (REDLACTRANS) presented a study showing that human rights violations against transgender women included discrimination, violence and aggression, theft, violation of the right to access justice, harassment, and homicide, among others. Discrimination toward transgender women was typically worse in the interior of the country, which tended to be more conservative and had smaller populations.
REDLACTRANS reported most transgender persons did not finish high school and that most transgender women worked in the informal sector, where their social benefits were not always guaranteed. They tended to be more vulnerable to dangerous and uncomfortable situations in sexual work and were less likely to report threats or attacks. In 2016 the government reported that 30 percent of transgender persons were unemployed, only 25 percent worked in the formal sector, 70 percent were sex workers, and the majority had low levels of education. Civil society reported it was less frequent for transgender men to be expelled from their home but that there was a high rate of depression and suicide attempts among this population. Observers also noted that, because they did not complete their education, transgender men usually had unskilled and low-paying jobs.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.