Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. A man may legally avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence. The law was not consistently enforced.
The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work, with increased penalties for intimate partner violence. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties for conviction ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. The Public Ministry’s ’s Defense Department employed a team of lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts who dealt exclusively with cases of femicide, gender-related violence, and other crimes against women. The law was often not followed or enforced.
The Maduro regime did not publish statistics on gender-based violence. The OHCHR reported a lack of due diligence in investigations of gender-based violence cases. According to NGOs, government efforts to protect victims of gender-based violence were ineffective or nonexistent. Enforcement of laws and access to justice were limited, as victims of gender-based violence reported a lack of progress and inability to follow up on cases after filing reports with authorities.
Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. There were four shelters for victims of gender-based violence, one each in Aragua, Cojedes, Sucre, and Trujillo States, but only two remained open; the remaining two struggled to operate effectively due to a lack of government support. NGOs provided most domestic abuse support services.
NGOs and media reported an increase of domestic abuse and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NGO Center for Justice and Peace reported 207 femicides between January and September 30.
On February 21 and 22, Eduarlys Falcon and Eliannys Martinez Ronoz were killed in Turen, Portuguesa State. The two young women were missing for more 24 hours and were later found with signs indicating they were tortured and sexually assaulted before being strangled to death. On February 28, the regime attorney general declared the alleged murderer had been arrested. In his annual report before the illegitimate National Assembly, the attorney general stated since 2017 there had been 610 femicide cases, of which 50 percent had been resolved.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by fines and a prison sentence of one to three years. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported. Several cases of harassment at the hands of security forces – both police and military – were reported during the year.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the Maduro regime. The regime restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception for the clinical management of rape.
The regime’s economic mismanagement and neglect of the country’s health-care infrastructure severely restricted access to resources for menstrual health and hygiene as well as to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Media reported access to methods of contraception and emergency contraception were limited. When available, birth control pills cost almost 10 times the monthly minimum wage, and an intrauterine device cost 25 times the monthly minimum wage. A pack of condoms cost three times the monthly minimum wage. According to NGOs, the COVID-19 pandemic further reduced access to contraception and the ability to see doctors and pharmacies. A 2020 study by the Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex Education (AVESA) found that fewer than 50 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
The IACHR found that many young women who were pregnant or had young children migrated to other countries to gain access to prenatal care and health and reproductive services. The IACHR also reported that women seeking neonatal or obstetric care had to provide their own surgical and personal protective equipment. Pregnant women frequently did not receive prenatal care or take prenatal supplements containing iron or folic acid needed for correct child formation, which affected child development and caused possible malnutrition and diseases. The precarious economic situation limited access to food to the entire population, which had a direct negative impact on pregnant women and their unborn children.
Hospitals lacked qualified health-care professionals, medicine, and necessities such as water, electricity, and cleaning supplies. The country’s health-care crisis, including the inability to attend to maternal health, was compounded by the pandemic as hospitals prioritized COVID-19 cases over other health services. AVESA also studied the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on the sexual and reproductive health of women in reproductive age in the Capital District and Miranda State. A report released during the year showed that between October and December 2020, there was a reduction of 18 percent in health assistance centers with family planning services, with no increase of the numbers of centers for assistance regarding sexually transmitted infections. Media reported sexually transmitted infections, including those passed onto children, were on the rise and citizens had limited access to resources to address them.
Women, children, and teenagers lacked the conditions and information to safely make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and also lacked access to services and contraceptive methods in a timely manner and in terms of quality. The pandemic’s mobility restrictions and closure of services aggravated the situation.
The Maduro regime claimed in its report to the UN ’s Women’s Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination towards Women that maternal mortality had dropped, which experts doubted. According to the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Venezuela, the maternal death rate in 2019 was 112 per 100,000 live births, with postpartum hemorrhages, sepsis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension cited as the leading causes of maternal mortality. Doctors stated these were “predictable and treatable” conditions but were often fatal due to hospitals’ lack of adequate beds, medical resources, and medicine. Statistics were unreliable due to the compounded crisis in the country, and experts believed the numbers could potentially be higher. An increasing number of births took place at home due to faltering medical services.
According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate in 2019 was 95 births for every 1,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19.
In October 2020 Vanesa Rosales, a human rights defender from the city of Merida, was arrested on accusations of providing information and medications for the voluntary termination of pregnancy for a 13-year-old adolescent who became pregnant as a result of rape. Rosales was charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to commit a crime, and abortion induced by a third party, exposing her to severe penalties. She was detained without due process and was released in May.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women regarding pay or working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs. Gender disparities persisted despite guarantees provided by law.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race. The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination and provides for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment for acts of racial discrimination. As mandated by law, signage existed outside commercial and recreational establishments announcing the prohibition against acts of racial discrimination. Beyond signage, the Maduro regime did little to enforce laws against discrimination or prosecute cases of discrimination.
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin. The constitution provides for three seats in the National Assembly for deputies of indigenous origin to “protect indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation,” but some indigenous communities continued without representation due to the TSJ’s annulment of the 2015 election of Amazonas State’s indigenous representatives.
NGOs and the press reported local political authorities seldom took account of indigenous interests when making decisions affecting indigenous lands, cultures, traditions, or allocation of natural resources. Indigenous groups continued to call for faster implementation of the demarcation process.
Indigenous groups and NGOs expressed concern regarding mining in the expanding Arco Minero, an area between the states of Bolivar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro. Indigenous communities reported the Maduro regime developed and expanded mining zones without consulting those native to the region, resulting in a rise in environmental degradation, water contamination, and malaria. Illegal armed groups, including the National Liberation Army and FARC-D, had a considerable presence in the area, increasing the level of violence and insecurity in the communities. There was also an unprecedented influx of disease; drugs; human trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; and other illegal activities in the mining areas, putting indigenous communities at risk.
Indigenous groups regularly reported violent conflicts with miners and cattle ranchers regarding land rights. There were reports of harassment, attacks, and forced evictions against indigenous persons living in areas included as part of Maduro regime mining concessions. Indigenous persons reported a lack of consultation by the regime on the social and environmental impact of mining activity in indigenous and protected areas.
Border disputes with Colombia affected indigenous groups living in border regions. There were many reported cases in which movements of indigenous groups were restricted, including from border closures. After more than 18 months, these regions continued to suffer severe restrictions that impeded tourism and forced indigenous communities of Santa Elena de Uairen, Bolivar State, to practice mining. The tourism chamber affirmed that approximately 28 indigenous communities stopped working in tourism due to the closure of the country’s borders and gasoline shortages, which made them depend on illegal mining for 60 percent of their income.
NGOs stated that quarantine measures imposed by the Maduro regime unduly affected indigenous communities, preventing transit to and through territories and making it impossible for indigenous persons to obtain sufficient food, water, and access to medical care, which was already difficult due to gasoline shortages in the area. PROVEA alerted that the migration of indigenous communities from Amazonas State to Colombia had increased in the past five years due to the worsening of the political-economic crisis and the increase in mining activity and invasion of indigenous territories. Colombian authorities estimated 3,900 Venezuelans had registered in 25 indigenous and nonindigenous settlements in Puerto Carreno as migrants or displaced persons.
In January there was concern for the 12 indigenous members of the Pemon community detained in the Rodeo II prison, due to the poor detention conditions. All were detained on allegations of having assaulted the 513 Jungle Infantry Battalion Mariano Montilla in 2019. Foro Penal called on authorities to grant them priority medical assistance, since they had tuberculosis due to poor sanitary conditions and lack of adequate food and water. Their lawyers affirmed in their case that due process was not guaranteed and that they had been subject to cruel and inhuman treatment. Advocacy groups decried that they should have been tried in an indigenous jurisdiction to respect indigenous rights. The National Observatory for Human Rights demanded the detainees be transferred to another facility closer to their community where they could have access to family and community. They also requested as a minimum condition to receive medical assistance according to their indigenous practices. They were released on February 13.
On February 21, an assembly of indigenous leaders in Bolivar State denounced the continued presence of illegal armed groups engaged in illegal mining activities on indigenous lands and declared a state of emergency in the community of San Luis de Morichal. The National Assembly denounced environmental degradation, instability, human rights violations, and the closure of schools. Leaders condemned the inaction and complicity of the Maduro regime and called on the regime to enforce protections for indigenous communities as enshrined in the constitution.
On June 21, Fundaredes in Apure State reported FARC dissidents killed six indigenous individuals in the Macanilla sector, located in the Pedro Camejo municipality. According to the NGO, the deaths occurred on June 15 after the indigenous individuals allegedly looted a food truck that was moving from San Juan de Payara to a church in Puerto Paez, in the Codazzi parish. Fundaredes also said the indigenous communities were unprotected by the state and suffered from malnutrition, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and displacement by irregular armed groups.
Also in June the OHCHR expressed concern regarding the death of indigenous Pemon leader Salvador Franco while he was in detention and called on authorities to conduct an immediate and independent investigation and to protect the rights of the detainees, especially their right to receive medical assistance. As of November neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the human rights ombudsman had made a statement regarding the case.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. The children’s rights NGO Cecodap reported that families struggled to register births due to quarantine measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. The Maduro regime made efforts to detain and prosecute some perpetrators of child abuse. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate. According to NGOs, in many cases children were returned to their homes without proper reintegration measures or follow-up. An investigation by Cecodap documented the lack of information from official sources regarding the violation of child and adolescents’ rights, noting that only 23 percent of the monitored news came from official sources.
During the first quarter of the year, Cecodap identified 209 violent episodes involving child and adolescents and said they were the victims in 86 percent of the cases. Cecodap reported that 30 percent of episodes monitored involved sexual abuse and most victims were between seven and 12 years old.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men, but with parental consent the minimum age is 16.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law conviction for having sexual relations with a minor younger than 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor younger than 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian is punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced commercial sexual exploitation and the corruption of minors. Penalties range from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment in cases of forced labor and some forms of sex trafficking of women and girls. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute child sex trafficking. The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Displaced Children: Children’s rights advocates and media reported an increase in the number of abandoned children living on the street. State-run facilities, already filled to capacity, were unable to support the influx. Cecodap estimated that as many as one million minors had been left behind with family members when their parents fled the country’s economic crisis, many of whom also struggled with the country’s economic downturn. These children resided in limbo, since their parents who left were unable legally to transfer guardianship to a third party. Private institutions denounced the Maduro regime’s refusal to provide subsidized food benefits to support the country’s population.
NGOs noted young girls constituted almost one-half of the children living on the streets. This shift posed particular challenges for shelters, which historically housed predominantly male populations. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.
The Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andres Bello documented that between October 2020 and February, at least 430 children and adolescents permanently left the country alone or accompanied by other minors. An additional 51,250 minors were recorded as regularly crossing the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Save The Children affirmed that 70 percent of children and adolescents left the country to find their parents and to achieve a family reunion; the remainder fled domestic violence. Many of these children were motivated by deceptive job offers. NGOs confirmed cases of unaccompanied Venezuelan girls who were victims of sex trafficking in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru.
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://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Confederation of Israelite Associations in Venezuela estimated there were 10,000 Jews in the country. Jewish community leaders expressed concern regarding anti-Semitic pieces in regime-aligned media outlets. They stated regime-owned or -associated media and supporters of the Maduro regime promoted Zionist conspiracy theories. There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but the Maduro regime did not implement the law, inform the public of it, or combat societal prejudice against persons with disabilities. The law requires that all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings provide access, but persons with disabilities had minimal access to public transportation, and ramps were almost nonexistent. Many persons with disabilities expressed concern that public transportation workers often were unwilling to transport them and forced them to find taxis, which were often unaffordable and frequently not equipped to support patrons with disabilities. NGOs reported hospitals lacked infrastructure to accommodate persons with mobility problems and staff to communicate with deaf persons. Parents of children with disabilities also complained they were forced to wait in long lines for services rather than receive preference as afforded by law. Online resources and access to information were generally available to persons with disabilities, although access to closed-captioned or audio-described online videos for persons with sight and hearing disabilities was limited. Leading advocates for persons with hearing disabilities lamented difficult access to public services due to a lack of interpreters in public courts, health-care facilities, and legal services, as well as a lack of other public accommodations.
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities, an independent agency, advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and provided medical, legal, occupational, and cultural programs. All forms of organization, whether public or private, are required by law to incorporate no less than 5 percent of persons with disabilities in their work area, according to their condition, their abilities, their skills, and their specialties with the aim of seek job placement. There was no available information regarding the number of persons registered with regime health programs who were fully employed. The law was generally not followed or enforced.
Some children with disabilities attended separate schools, while others were in mainstream schools with their peers without disabilities. Media reported that schools for children with disabilities suffered from underfunding, decaying infrastructure, and little consideration for the specific needs of individual disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities reported significant difficulties in school enrollment, which prevented their children from receiving formal education. NGOs reported that in the shift to online classes due to COVID-19, children with disabilities had limited access to educational materials, and the Ministry of Education did not adapt curricula for children with disabilities.
The NGOs Cecodap and Deaf Confederation of Venezuela reported three legal cases where the accused were individuals with cognitive disabilities who were arbitrarily detained and deprived of liberty. In each case the court omitted information about the defendant’s mental disability, even when the disability was reflected and endorsed by medical reports from each of the accused. The most recent case was in December 2020, regarding a 15-year-old adolescent in Yaracuy State who allegedly was involved in crimes of extortion and kidnapping. He was linked to the crime by a cell phone that was used by his mother, who went missing at that time.
The law provides for the equal rights of persons with HIV or AIDS and their families. Nevertheless, leading advocates alleged discrimination occurred against such persons. Media and NGOs denounced that during the pandemic more than one thousand persons died due to lack of antiretroviral treatment, as well as poor care in public hospitals. Since 2016 the regime had not purchased antiretroviral medicine, which also affected a great number of children with HIV. The NGO Citizen Action Against AIDS reported there was permanent discrimination in public hospitals and refusal of medical attention against persons with HIV and mistreatment of pregnant women with HIV at the time of delivery.
The number of persons with HIV in treatment increased in the last two years from 24 percent to 54 percent in December 2020, according to UNAIDS. On January 12, DGCIM arbitrarily detained six members of NGO Azul Positivo that provided humanitarian aid to the HIV-positive population of Zulia State, raided the NGO’s offices, and seized equipment.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas. NGOs reported the Maduro regime systematically denied legal recognition to transgender and intersex persons by preventing them from obtaining identity documents required for accessing education, employment, housing, and health care. This vulnerability often led transgender and intersex persons to become victims of human trafficking.
The armed forces criminalize homosexual relations in the military justice code, punishing members of the LGBTQI+ community with prison from one to three years and fines.
NGOs reported incidents of bias-motivated violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Reported incidents were most prevalent against transgender individuals. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities often did not properly investigate to determine whether crimes were bias motivated.
In June media reported at least seven hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. These cases should have been processed by the Special Ombudsman’s Office for the Protection of Persons of Sexual Diversity (an entity created in December 2020 and attached to the Ombudsman’s Office), but NGOs affirmed the office was ineffective and that most related hate crimes were not investigated.
The constitution provides for equality before the law of all persons and prohibits discrimination based on “sex or social condition,” but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a TSJ ruling, no individual may be subjected to discrimination because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced.
The law establishes the principle of no discrimination for sexual orientation as well as no discrimination in the workplace for sexual preferences; however, there were no mechanisms to denounce violations of the law.