Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence remained serious and underreported problems. The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult. Domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, conviction rates were low.
On April 11, a young couple was arrested in Cochabamba and taken to the police station. While they were in police custody at the Trafficking and Victims unit, an officer allegedly raped the 16-year-old girl. On April 13, police detained the alleged perpetrator, and the Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the case. According to the 2016 UN Human Development Report, eight of every 10 women reported having no confidence in the police in Cochabamba.
The Special Force for the Fight Against Violence (FELCV), a unit within the national police, reported receiving 21,405 cases of domestic abuse, gender-based violence, and rape as of September. Of those cases, 630 were rape cases, and 18,805 cases were of domestic or familial violence. The FELCV’s national director, Norma Hurtado, reported 589 acts of sexual abuse in the first semester of the year. Authorities stated that 61 femicides occurred between January and August. The city of Cochabamba registered the largest number of cases (20), with Santa Cruz and La Paz reporting 18 and 16 cases, respectively. Of those killed, 32 percent were raped beforehand, according to police data. Hurtado stated that the principal causes behind these were disagreements between couples, economic factors, and the excessive consumption of alcohol. According to the State Prosecutor, of the 192 cases of femicide since 2015, only 38 percent resulted in the maximum 30-year conviction.
Women’s rights organizations reported that police units assigned to the FELCV did not have sufficient resources and that frontline officers lacked proper training about their investigatory responsibilities under the law. Women’s organizations also reported the law’s stringent penalties discouraged some women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses, including because of economic dependence. The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. As of December the municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. The La Paz shelter also had coroner’s services and a help hotline. The city of El Alto had a women’s shelter capable of housing 25 women. While the city of Cochabamba did not own its own shelter, it signed an agreement with Care Center Women to house women in a facility administered by missionaries. A UN Population Fund study released in November 2015 revealed that in rural areas cases of rape and sexual assault frequently did not enter into a formal judicial process for resolution, and courts instead handled them by fining the perpetrator 500 bolivianos ($73) or by subjecting the perpetrator to 20 lashes.
Rape and sexual violence continued to be serious and widespread problems. A 2015 study by the NGO Women’s Coordinator found that of the total cases of sexual violence reported through the legal system, 58 percent involved the rape of an adult and 10 percent the rape of a minor. The Center for Sexual Education and Research reported rapists accounted for the second-largest number of 1,700 inmates surveyed, although most rapists never received a sentence and likely remained in pretrial detention. Some cases of sexual violence resulted in deaths. The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in jail. Activists said that corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.
Domestic violence remained a serious problem. A study by Women’s Coordinator found that 91 percent of those affected by such violence were women and girls. According to Women’s Center for Information and Development, 70 percent of women suffered physical, sexual, or psychological abuse during their lifetime.
Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no definitive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.
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, and violence. According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio was 206 per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality rates were higher among the indigenous population living in rural areas, which were difficult to access and lacked quality health service facilities. The major causes of maternal mortality were linked to obstetrical complications–hemorrhages, infections, complications related to childbirth–and to abortion. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the “Juana Azurduy” bonus, a 2009 government incentive that awards mothers 1,820 bolivianos ($266) for attending pre- and postnatal checkups, diminished the infant mortality rate.
Amnesty International reported that barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services included a lack of information and access to modern contraception. The UN Population Fund estimated that only 41 percent of women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraceptives, and 18 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. Traditional prejudices and social conditions remained obstacles to advancement. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. In 2013 the National Statistics Institute reported that the average salary for women was approximately half the average salary for men and that the wage disparity was greater in urban areas than in rural communities. Women reported employers were sometimes reluctant to hire them due to the additional costs, such as expenses related to maternity leave, in a woman’s benefits package. The gender gap in hiring appeared widest for positions requiring higher education. Most women in urban areas worked in the informal economy and the services and trade sectors, including domestic service and microbusinesses, while in rural areas the majority of economically active women worked in agriculture. Some young girls left school early to work at home or in the informal economy. The 2012 census showed that the overall literacy gap between men and women fell to 4.9 percent from 12.4 percent in 2001 and was virtually nonexistent among individuals between the ages of 15 and 25.
The rate of female participation in government was high, but there were reports that female policymakers faced discrimination, violence, and harassment.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2015 civil registry reported that 56 percent of Bolivians were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by the age of 12.
Child Abuse: Domestic violence against children and school bullying continued at high rates. The NGO Foundation Paz y Esperanza reported 70 percent of children suffered physical or psychological mistreatment in their homes, schools, or places of work. The ombudsman of children and adolescents reported that 89.5 percent of mistreated children experienced abuse in familial settings. Education Minister Roberto Aguilar estimated 10 percent of children were victims of sexual aggression.
The law proscribes penalties of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for rape of a child under the age of 14. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The city of La Paz registered 44 cases of sexual abuse of children between January and April. Sepamos and La Foundation Arco Iris, two organizations that work on sexual violence against children problems, reported that between 2015 and August 2016, there were 159 cases of sexual abuse of children nationwide. According to these same reports, 90 percent of these cases were never legally prosecuted and only 1 percent ended in a sentence for the perpetrator. Of the 159 cases, 73 percent involved abuse by a family member.
Government authorities took action to reduce violence and harassment in public schools, but abuse remained a significant problem. A Ministry of Education resolution mandates that school administrators implement policies to prevent violence and discrimination in public schools. World Vision Bolivia reported 40 percent of children in schools were victims of bullying and 60 percent of students were victims of violence and mistreatment at the hands of teachers.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents under 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. According to media reports, from January to June 2015, police investigated 229 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with 10- to 15-year sentences.
Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them. According to official statistics, approximately 4,000 of these abandoned children lived on the streets of major cities, 2,000 of them in La Paz.
Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported that many government-run shelters housed both child-abuse victims and juvenile delinquents. There were reports of abuse and negligence in some shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that, of the region’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and school students, only 30 had received government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.
International Child Abductions: On January 21, the government signed and ratified the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. Jewish leaders reported the public often conflated Jews with Israelis.
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, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The constitution and law also require communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and Braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation and budgetary support. In addition, the law is more than 50 years old, and many of its protections and requirements are outdated. Activists expressed concerns about the inadequacy of services and opportunities for persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, education, transportation, health care, justice, and recreation. They called for greater investment in the area of medical prevention. In addition societal discrimination kept many persons with disabilities at home from an early age, limiting their integration into society and restricting their right to participate in civic affairs. Civil society contacts reported patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities. The National Committee for Persons with Disabilities, directed by the Ministry of Health, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The law prescribes an annual payment of 1,000 bolivianos ($146) to persons with disabilities, but activists reported this payment insufficient under cost-of-living standards. Furthermore, most persons with disabilities were not able to access these funds. An individual must be deemed “less than 50 percent functional” to be eligible for the payment and must complete a burdensome and costly administrative process prohibitive for most applicants. Activists reported a minority of persons with disabilities benefited from the payment. In May a group of disability activists initiated protests in the city of Cochabamba to demand a monthly bonus of 500 bolivianos ($73). The protests continued in the city of La Paz through October.
The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discriminations as indigenous persons who lived in these areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported that employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly the police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.
In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population over the age of 15 identified themselves as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities. The government facilitated major advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governmental posts and in society writ large. The government also carried out programs to increase access to potable water and sanitation in rural areas where indigenous persons predominated, although large corruption scandals in the government-run Indigenous Fund inhibited these programs.
Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas. On several occasions government-affiliated actors promoted divisions within indigenous organizations to ensure the organizations remained allied with government interests.
Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the “ayllu” system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In May the government enacted Law 807, the Gender Identity Law, after congress adopted it by a more than two-thirds majority. The law allows members of the transgender community to exercise their right to change their name, sexual identification, and picture on all legal identity cards and birth certificates. Since the law was put into effect on August 1, 50 of the 80 applicants completed the procedure for obtaining new birth certificates reflecting name and sex changes. Further, David Tezanos, the new human rights ombudsman, appointed as one of his deputies the first transgender woman to work in the government. Prominent gay rights activists insisted the government needed to take further actions to guarantee equal family, education, work and health rights for LGBTI persons and also expressed a need for more comprehensive legislation addressing hate crimes and prostitution.
Despite advances, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was common, even in the highest levels of government. The LGBTI movement was subject to frequent violence and sexual exploitation. In March, three transgender women were killed. LGBTI activists led marches in Santa Cruz on March 25 and April 3 to mobilize the community against such hate crimes.
LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. The transgender community remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination. Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to seek employment in the commercial sex sector because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the behalf of employers to accept their credentials. Due to the low wages of most sex workers, the cost of officially changing an individual’s identification on government documents (500 bolivianos, or $73) under the new Gender Identity Law is still prohibitive for many in the transgender community.
Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services, and there were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The National Coordinator for the HIV/AIDS program under the Ministry of Health reported 16,022 individuals infected with HIV/AIDS. The majority of these cases were concentrated in the city of Santa Cruz, where more than 50 percent of infected individuals lived. The director of the NGO Igualdad reported that approximately 30 percent of transgender individuals in Santa Cruz had HIV. The Ministry of Health registered 32 new cases nationwide of children infected with HIV during the year, and a total of 155 children with HIV/AIDS in the country. On September 14, the La Paz Health Department issued a warning in the Department of La Paz due to an alarming growth rate of HIV cases. From January to August, 347 new cases of HIV infections were reported in La Paz, nine more than during the same period in 2015.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported that discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was least successful in diagnosing cases.
The National Network of Persons Living with HIV in Bolivia stated in their 2015 report on the human rights situation for HIV-infected persons that, while social stigmas and discrimination against this population remained prevalent in the country, the situation had worsened for individuals who disclosed their statuses to employers. At least two individuals reported receiving pressure to resign from their positions and reported being victims of other types of discrimination due to their sexual orientation.
In 2012, the most recent year data was available, the Ministry of Health reported 32 percent of the persons with HIV/AIDS surveyed suffered insults or verbal abuse, 20 percent were threatened, and 22 percent were victims of violent aggression. The study also noted that 20 percent of those surveyed reported discrimination in provision of government services at hospitals and schools and that many persons with HIV/AIDS did not report acts of discrimination due to fear. Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Vigilante justice remained a serious and growing problem, especially in rural communities and in El Alto. While no mob violence resulted in deaths during the year, mobs attempted on multiple occasions to hang their victims, set them on fire, or bury them alive.
Mob violence seriously injured several persons during the year. In many cases mobs attacked the victims for alleged crimes, and in some instances police refused to intervene due to lack of capacity and fear of becoming victims themselves. In March a woman welcomed disability activists into her home when they arrived in La Paz (see section 2.b.). Members of the “Campesinos” Federation beat the woman for her actions towards the protesters and threatened to “destroy her land.” As of December there had been no official response to the incident.
Most participants in acts of vigilante justice cited the broken nature of the justice system as the principal motivator to pursue justice by other means.