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 provides penalties of up to 10 years in prison for rape or sexual assault. If the victim is a minor, the sentence ranges from three to 15 years in prison. According to the Ministry of Women and media sources, rape continued to be a significant and pervasive problem, with many rapes going unreported. The government generally prosecuted rape allegations and sometimes obtained convictions.
Although the law criminalizes domestic violence, including psychological abuse, and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine, the law requires the abuse to be habitual and the aggressor and victim to be “cohabitating or lodging together.” Judges typically issued fines, but in some cases they sentenced offenders to prison to provide for the safety of the victim. In some instances the courts mediated domestic violence cases.
According to NGOs and the Ministry of Women, domestic violence was widespread. Civil society and private-sector experts believed domestic violence increased during the COVID-19 quarantine period, although government statistics were inconclusive. Government statistics from January to July, however, showed a 54 percent increase in calls to a hotline for victims of domestic violence, compared with the same period in 2019. In many instances victims asked prosecutors to drop cases against their attackers due to fear of reprisals, allowing their attackers’ crimes to go unpunished. In May the wife of a well-known journalist filed a criminal complaint with the Special Unit for Combatting Domestic Violence at the Attorney General’s Office accusing her husband of domestic violence. After the news became public, the woman dropped the case against her husband.
The Ministry of Women promoted a national 24-hour telephone hotline for victims. The ministry also operated a shelter and coordinated victim assistance efforts, public outreach campaigns, and training. The ministry’s “Woman City” in Asuncion, an integrated service center for women, provided assistance focusing on prevention of domestic violence and also on reproductive health, economic empowerment, and education. As of September 30, the National Police had 18 specialized units to assist victims of domestic violence and thousands of officers trained at a basic level to respond to domestic violence situations.
Femicide remained a serious problem. The law criminalizes femicide and mandates a sentence of between 10 and 30 years in prison. As of September 1, the Observatory of Women’s Affairs within the Ministry of Women reported 27 cases of femicide, a significantly lower number than the previous year’s total of 52 cases.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine. Sexual harassment remained a problem for many women, especially in the workplace. Prosecutors found sexual harassment and abuse claims difficult to prove due to victims’ fear of workplace retaliation and societal pressures against victims. Many dropped their complaints or were unwilling to cooperate with prosecutors. Although the government did not have specific programs to reduce sexual harassment, the Ministry of Women’s “Woman City” initiative attended to complaints of sexual harassment and provided legal guidance and emotional support for victims.
In August a judge acquitted priest Silvestre Olmedo of sexual harassment following allegations by a female parish volunteer, Alexa Torres. Even though Olmedo admitted to committing the acts, the judge ruled that because the acts had only occurred once, they did not constitute sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Abortion is explicitly prohibited unless the mother’s life is at risk. Abortions carry prison sentences of up to two years for a consenting mother; up to five years for a consenting service provider; and up to eight years for anyone who kills a fetus without the mother’s consent.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. A Ministry of Health protocol for survivors of sexual violence, which includes provision of reproductive health services, applies to all health care institutions. Follow-up psychiatric care and legal referrals were also available for victims. In practice, however, health care institutions did not provide access to reproductive health services evenly and in some cases denied such services to sexual violence survivors.
Reproductive health services were concentrated in cities; rural areas faced significant gaps in coverage. According to United Nations Population Fund estimates, in 2019 the adolescent birth rate remained high at 72 births per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19. The Ministry of Health reported a daily average of two births for girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, but the government did not effectively enforce this provision. There is no comprehensive law against discrimination. There is a law specifically against workplace discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, age, religion, political opinion, disability, HIV-positive status, or social origin, but it was rarely enforced.
Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. Nonetheless, gender-related discrimination persisted, and employers were sometimes reluctant to hire female employees who might require maternity leave as set forth in the labor code. Women experienced more difficulty than men in securing employment. For example the National Police Academy’s admissions policy does not allow female applicants who are married or have children to become cadets, although no such restriction exists for men who have children.
Birth Registration: Nationality derives from birth within the country’s territory, from birth to government employees in service abroad, or from birth to a citizen residing temporarily outside the country. Hospitals immediately register births, but registration was difficult for many parents of children born in rural areas and in indigenous communities with limited access to health-care facilities. Birth certificates and national identity documents are a prerequisite to access government services, including obtaining a passport.
Child Abuse: The NGO Coalition for the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the Ministry of Children and Youth stated that violence against children was widespread. The Ministry of Children and Youth received reports of physical and psychological child abuse through its child abuse hotline.
The government did not have a shelter exclusively for child victims of sexual abuse; victims were usually assigned to an extended family member or referred to general-purpose youth shelters. Several such shelters existed, including one comanaged by the government and a Roman Catholic organization. In many cities the municipal council for children’s rights assisted abused and neglected children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but the law permits marriage for persons ages 16 to 18 with parental consent, and for those younger than age 16 only with judicial authorization under exceptional circumstances. There was one report of forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: According to the Ministry of Children and Youth, child trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced domestic servitude was a problem. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation; sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution; and child pornography. The law provides a penalty of eight years’ imprisonment for persons responsible for pimping or brokering victims younger than 17, which is significantly lower than the penalties described under the antitrafficking law. The government generally enforced the law.
The minimum age of consent is 14 when married and 16 when not married. The law sets the penalty for sexual abuse in cases involving violence or intercourse to at least 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than 18, and up to 20 years in prison if the victim is younger than 10. The penal code also provides for fines or up to three years in prison for the production, distribution, and possession of pornography involving children or adolescents younger than 18. Authorities may increase this penalty to 10 years in prison depending on the age of the child and the child’s relationship to the abuser. The law prohibits the publication of names, images, or audio recordings of underage sexual abuse victims or witnesses, and it stipulates fines and one year in prison for offenders.
In the first seven months of the year, the Prosecutor’s Office received hundreds of reports of sexual abuse of children. In April a seven-year-old girl went missing in Emboscada, a city 20 miles north of Asuncion. Police found that the girl had been made to participate in the production of child pornography. The girl’s parents were charged with neglect and producing child pornography. As of October 16, the parents remained in pretrial detention; the girl’s welfare and whereabouts were unknown.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Jewish community had fewer than 1,000 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The law nominally prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates accessibility in all public offices, but it does not specifically provide for access to information or communications. Most of the country’s buildings remained inaccessible.
Many persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment; some were unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. The law mandates the allocation of 5 percent of all available civil servant positions to persons with disabilities; in practice persons with disabilities occupied less than 1 percent of civil service positions. As of July, of 413 public institutions, only 26 institutions hired enough persons with disabilities to fill at least 5 percent of their positions. Teleton, an NGO that advocates and provides services for children with disabilities, estimated more than 50 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school due to lack of access to public transportation. The majority of children with disabilities who attended school were enrolled in the public school system. Some specialized schools served specific needs such as deafness.
Anecdotally, members of ethnic minority groups faced discrimination in finding employment, accessing credit, receiving equal pay, owning or managing businesses, accessing education, and accessing housing. There were no members of ethnic minority groups in Congress, the cabinet, or the Supreme Court.
The law provides indigenous persons the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the country, but the law was not effectively enforced. Discrimination, coupled with a lack of access to employment, education, health care, shelter, water, and land, hindered the ability of indigenous persons to progress economically while maintaining their cultural identity. Indigenous workers engaged as laborers on ranches typically earned low wages, worked long hours, received pay infrequently, and lacked medical and retirement benefits. This situation was particularly severe in the Chaco region.
The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Labor Ministry, Social Action Secretariat, and Ombudsman’s Office are responsible for protecting and promoting indigenous rights. The law mandates that INDI negotiate, purchase, and register land on behalf of indigenous communities who claim lack of access to their ancestral lands.
The law authorizes indigenous persons to determine how to use communal land. There were insufficient police and judicial protections from encroachments on indigenous lands. This often resulted in conflict and occasional violence between indigenous communities and large landowners in rural areas.
The NGO Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator and indigenous rights NGO Tierraviva documented widespread trafficking in persons, rape, sexual harassment, and physical abuse of women in indigenous communities. Perpetrators were often male members of the community, workers, or employees from neighboring ranches and farms. NGO representatives also alleged agribusiness operations exploited and violated the rights of indigenous workers. Indigenous leaders reported that the insurgent group the Paraguayan People’s Army actively recruited minors from indigenous communities.
In January a 14-year-old girl from the Mbya Guarani indigenous community was found in a warehouse in Asuncion with her hands tied and showing signs of sexual abuse. Authorities believed she had been trafficked for sexual exploitation, but as of October, they had not arrested or charged anyone in the case.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and discrimination occurred frequently.
There were allegations that on July 15 in Ciudad del Este, navy sailors targeted three transgender women for torture and abuse because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the incident.
The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV-positive status and protects the privacy of medical information. The law also specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees based on HIV-positive status. Labor Ministry regulations forbid employers from requiring HIV testing prior to employment, but many companies reportedly did so.
NGOs, including the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator and the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Counseling and Reporting Center, noted that persons with HIV and AIDS who sought access to health care, education, and employment opportunities faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, demand for HIV testing, and gender identity.