Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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 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 for inclusion of gender-based violence in the university curriculum, especially in the health sector.
The 2017 criminal procedure code introduced changes to victims’ rights, including guarantees and services during criminal proceedings, and the creation of a Victims and Witnesses Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Since its establishment, the unit 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 hatred or contempt motivated by the fact of being a female.” The law’s explanatory statement describes gender-based violence as all violent acts against women, in both the private and public spheres, arising from structural inequalities between women and men.
The government maintained a Gender-Based Violence Observatory to monitor, collect, register, and analyze data on gender-based violence. 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 women and children victims of domestic violence could seek temporary refuge. Civil society reported shelters for victims were of good quality but that capacity was insufficient. In August and September, the Ministry of Social Development opened two new shelters for women with children, providing an additional 260 spaces for victims to receive government services. 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. The Ministry of Social Development also operated housing programs that offered users access to housing solutions through agreements with the Ministry of Housing and the Housing Agency, as well as through universal housing solutions available to the general population, while they continued to receive support and follow-up from experts from the Ministry of Social Development. 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. In July authorities extended the service, making it available 24/7, and victims could also file a report online or at a police station.
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.
There is also a National Gender Council headed by the Women’s Institute of the Ministry of Social Development and with representatives from 26 government and nongovernmental bodies, including the 12 ministries, the judicial branch, health administration, INDDHH, academia, civil society, and other sectors. The aim of the council is to incorporate a gender perspective into the design, assessment, and implementation of policies.
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: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on part of the government authorities.
The country recognized, protected, and promoted sexual and reproductive rights without discrimination. Problems remained, however, in the full implementation of these policies, especially in the interior of the country and for marginalized populations. Adolescents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; persons with disabilities; and Afro-Uruguayans suffered discrimination in fully accessing contraception and reproductive medical care.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.
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. A study conducted in July by Acrux Partners showed that women had less access to credit, and usually for smaller amounts, than men.
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, equal access to quality jobs and training, elimination of discrimination in selection and promotion processes, and guarantees and protections for maternity and responsibility sharing.
The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and government made efforts to enforce the law. Nonetheless, the country’s Afro-Uruguayan minority continued to face societal discrimination, high levels of poverty, and lower levels of education. According to a 2020 World Bank report, Afro-Uruguayans had almost twice the likelihood of residing in informal settlements with the worst socioeconomic 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 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. NGOs reported structural racism in society and noted the percentage of Afro-Uruguayans working as unskilled laborers was much higher than for other groups.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 enforced the law. In March a 54-year-old man was convicted of sexual abuse of two minors ages 12 and 13 and was sentenced to serve a total of four years, two years of prison and two years of probation. In June the Special Crimes Department of the General Directorate for the Fight Against Organized Crime and Interpol arrested a man for attracting minors through social media to perform sexual or erotic jobs in exchange for money. He was sentenced “for a crime of retribution or promise of retribution to minors or persons incapable of carrying out sexual or erotic acts of any kind” to a total of two years – one year in prison and one year of probation. The Special Crimes Department continued a program focused on crimes of child pornography. In total 10 persons were arrested and sentenced for this crime.
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.
In September the Ministry of Tourism, INAU, and UNICEF, with the support of the Uruguayan International Cooperation Agency, signed a memorandum of understanding for the prevention, detection, and remedy of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the context of tourism. The Prosecutor General’s Office maintained a special hotline to receive reports of sexual exploitation of minors from victims.
Institutionalized Children: The NPM reported on violations in centers for minors and adolescents with mental health disabilities, including physical and verbal mistreatment in three centers. Some centers prioritized security, order, and control, and some lacked proper channels to report abuses.
The NPM also reported violations 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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
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. In May a local council member of the Department of Rocha for the Frente Amplio Party posted the following comment in Facebook in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict: “Every day I ask myself whether Hitler was so wrong.” He was strongly criticized by other council members, who demanded his resignation, and fellow party members, who submitted the case to the political conduct tribunal of the party and demanded he take a leave of absence. He later resigned from his position.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
Persons with disabilities did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law requires such access, as well as communication and information in accessible formats, but it was not enforced. The law provides for the protection of 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 a 2020 World Bank report on social inclusion, persons with disabilities faced barriers to participation in numerous sectors, especially in the labor market, education, and access to public spaces. 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, care-giving services, legal assistance, access to transportation, education, vocational training, and employment services, but the ministry lacked the capacity to reach all persons with disabilities.
Children with disabilities attended school at all levels at significantly lower rates than children without disabilities. 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 percent. 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 segregated “special schools” existed for children with disabilities, resulting in a de facto 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. The government-sponsored Plan Ceibal, also known as the one laptop per child program, 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.
There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.
In August a local NGO reported that a hospital in the department of Paysandu did not allow a gay man to donate blood. The report was filed with health authorities and the National Human Rights Institution and gave rise to several similar complaints by other persons. Hospital officials apologized and stated it was due to lack of knowledge of a December 2020 change in regulation. The transfusion regulations in force since 1999, which did not allow men who had had sex with other men to donate blood, was repealed, and sexual orientation was no longer considered as a determining factor in who can donate blood.
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 LGBTQI+ issues, societal discrimination remained high. NGOs also reported that although the law establishes the right of transgender persons to hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgery, there were reports some health providers did not offer these options to patients, without any consequence for their lack of compliance with the law. Furthermore, civil society reported that sex reassignment surgery was available only for transgender women (male to female). NGOs reported the commission in charge of name changes was overwhelmed, which resulted in delays. The Ministry of Social Development informed that as of September the commission had received 148 applications for name changes, of which 47 had been granted.
Authorities generally protected the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. According to Amnesty International, however, the country did not have any comprehensive, antidiscrimination policy that protected LGBTQI+ 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 in 2018 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 latest figures available, the government reported that 30 percent of transgender persons were unemployed. Among the employed, 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.