Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused. Sentences for those convicted of rape range from eight to 12 years, or 15 years in cases of aggravated rape. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides prison sentences ranging from one to 12 years. The government failed to enforce the law effectively, leading to widespread impunity and reports of increased violence from released offenders emboldened by their release. Many women were reluctant to report abuse due to enforced medical examinations for survivors of rape and other sexual crimes, social stigma, fear of retribution, impunity for perpetrators, and loss of economic security if abusive spouses were jailed. While the law provides for the issuance of restraining orders, problems in their effective enforcement continued. Observers reported a general increase in sexual crimes against women compared with 2015. The NNP reported 1,458 cases of rape and aggravated rape and 862 cases of sexual abuse in 2015, the most recent data available. The Institute of Legal Medicine within the judicial branch, however, reported investigating 5,596 incidents of sexual violence in 2015, constituting more than 7 percent of their investigations. There were no comprehensive statistics available on prosecutions or convictions. Human rights organizations and women’s rights groups alleged that many of the early releases of recent years (see section 1.c.) were of men who had been convicted of attacking women, but these claims could not be verified.
Violence against women remained high, according to domestic NGO reports. The NGO Catholics for the Right to Decide reported that between January and July, 41 women were killed, many of whom were raped, beaten, or maimed. NGOs working on women’s issues reported an increase in the severity of these crimes over the past seven years. Women’s rights organizations claimed police generally understated the level of violence against women. For example, in 2015 the NNP recognized 16 femicides, while the NGO Network of Women Against Violence reported 53 that year. Women’s rights NGOs continued to protest the presidential decree on regulations for the Comprehensive Law (Law 779) on Violence Against Women, which encompasses the legal protections for women against violence, because it dilutes protections found in the law.
NNP commissariats were established in 1993 as independent offices designed to provide social and legal help to women, mediate spousal conflicts, investigate and help prosecute criminal complaints, and refer victims to other governmental and nongovernmental assistance agencies. Observers and assistance providers, however, reported that the NNP no longer operated these women’s commissariats and instead had placed them and the investigation of these types of crimes with either regular police or the DAJ. Women’s rights organizations claimed that NGOs or family members were barred from accompanying women when reporting domestic violence or sexual assaults and that the burden of gathering proof of the crime was often placed on the victim. Women’s groups asserted the modest number of shelters (two government and 11 nongovernmental) was inadequate, especially on the Caribbean Coast, where only one shelter (nongovernmental) operated in the RACN.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and those convicted face one- to three-year sentences in prison, or three to five years if the victim is under 18 years old. Observers believed sexual harassment likely was underreported due to the failure of authorities to consider the abuse seriously and victims’ fear of retribution.
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, or violence. The 2015 World Health Organization figures estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 150 deaths per 100,000 live births. Women in some areas, such as the RACN and the RACS, did not have widespread access to medical care or programs, and maternal death was more likely to affect poor rural women than their urban counterparts.
Emergency health care was generally provided, but in some cases women were afraid to seek medical treatment for post abortion obstetric emergencies, due to a “no exceptions” ban on abortion. Observers noted the Ministry of Health continued to make progress in quality, coverage, distribution, and usage of contraceptives through successful family planning programs.
Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality. Nevertheless, women often experienced discrimination in employment, credit, and pay equity for similar work, as well as in owning and managing businesses. Women were much less likely to be senior officials or managers. Authorities often discriminated in property matters against poor women who lacked birth certificates or identity cards. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s special prosecutor for women and the Nicaraguan Women’s Ministry, the government entities responsible for protecting women’s rights, had limited effectiveness.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Local civil registries register births within 12 months; however, many persons, especially in rural areas, lacked birth certificates. Persons without citizenship documents were unable to obtain national identity cards and consequently had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership.
The government continued to register newborns through service desks in public hospitals and through “social-promoter” programs that visited rural neighborhoods. MiFamilia, the Civil Registry, and, to a lesser extent, the CSE are responsible for registering births, but they did not make data available.
Child Abuse: The NNP reported that in 2015, the most recent period for which data was available, authorities received 889 complaints of sex crimes against adolescent girls. Human rights groups expressed concern over levels of child pregnancy throughout the country. High rates of sexual violence against teenage girls contributed to teenage pregnancy rates, according to Plan International.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for men and women, or 16 with parental authorization. There were credible reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. The UN Children’s Fund’s 2016 State of the World’s Children reported that 41 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were married or in a union by age 18 and 10 percent were married by age 15. No information was available on government efforts to address or prevent forced and early marriage, and some advocates claimed the government did not enforce the law effectively.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Trafficking in Persons Law, which came into effect in 2015, prohibits sexual exploitation in general and designates enticing children or adolescents to engage in sexual activity as an aggravating condition. The government generally enforced the law when pertaining to child prostitution. Penalties include 10 to 15 years in prison for a person who entices or forces any individual to engage in sexual activity, and 19 to 20 years in prison for the same acts involving children or adolescents. The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with children who are 14 or younger. Several NGOs reported sexual exploitation of young girls was common, as was the prevalence of older men (including foreigners) who exploited young girls under the guise of providing them support.
The law also prohibits child pornography, and the government generally enforced this law. The penalty for an individual convicted of inducing, facilitating, promoting, or using a minor for sexual or erotic purposes is 10 to 15 years in prison.
The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The law imposes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for convicted child-sex tourists. There were anecdotal reports of child-sex tourism in the Granada, Rivas, Chinandega, and Managua departments; there were no officially reported cases.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
According to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation, the recognized Jewish community in Nicaragua numbered approximately 50 members. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
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, but such discrimination was widespread in education, transportation, access to health care, the provision of state services, and employment. Laws related to persons with disabilities do not stipulate penalties for noncompliance, although penalties may be issued under the general labor inspection code. MiFamilia, the Ministry of Labor, and the PDDH are among government agencies responsible for the protection and advancement of rights of persons with disabilities. The government did not enforce the law effectively; did not mandate accessibility to buildings, information, and communications; and did not make information available on efforts to improve respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. Independent media reported that persons with disabilities accounted for less than 1 percent of public sector employees, despite the legally mandated minimum representation of 2 percent. Further reports indicated that public institutions did not sufficiently coordinate with the Labor Ministry to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace.
Persons with disabilities faced severe problems accessing schools, public health facilities, and other public institutions. Many voting facilities were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Complaints continued regarding the lack of accessible public transportation in Managua. While some buses were accessible, drivers of these buses reportedly either refused to stop to allow persons with disabilities to board or intentionally broke lift and ramp equipment. The press reported that the Managua Mayor’s Office sponsored training for bus drivers through transportation cooperatives. The PDDH special prosecutor for disability rights was active throughout the year. Government clinics and hospitals provided care for veterans and other persons with disabilities, but the quality of care generally was poor.
Various indigenous and other ethnic groups from the RACN and the RACS attributed the lack of government resources devoted to the Caribbean Coast to discriminatory attitudes toward the ethnic and racial minorities in those regions. While the racial makeup of the RACN and the RACS historically has been Afro-descendent and Amerindian, increasing migration from the interior and Pacific Coast of the country made these groups a minority in many areas.
Exclusionary treatment based on race, skin color, and ethnicity was common, especially in higher-income urban areas. Darker-skinned persons of African descent from the RACN and the RACS, along with others assumed to be from those areas experienced discrimination, such as extra security measures and illegal searches by police.
Indigenous people constituted approximately 5 percent of the population and lived primarily in the RACN and the RACS. They often did not participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions or the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands. Individuals from five major indigenous groups–the Miskito, Sumo/Mayangna, Garifuna (of Afro-Amerindian origin), Creole, and Rama–alleged government discrimination through underrepresentation in the legislative branch.
Indigenous people from rural areas often lacked birth certificates, identity cards, and land titles. Although they formed political groups, these often held little influence and were ignored or used by major national parties to advance the latter’s own agendas. Most indigenous people in rural areas lacked access to public services, and deteriorating roads made medicine and health care almost unobtainable for many. The rates of unemployment, illiteracy, and truancy were among the highest in the country. Some indigenous groups continued to lack educational materials in their native languages and relied on Spanish-language texts provided by the national government.
NGOs and indigenous rights groups claimed the government failed to protect the civil and political rights of indigenous communities. Some observers alleged government involvement in the violence against Miskito populations in the RACN along the Coco River, either as a result of inaction or more directly as accomplices to nonindigenous groups invading indigenous lands. According to media reports and local indigenous groups, violence resulted in as many as 40 deaths between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, including two beheadings, and accounted for the displacement of as many as 1,000 persons into neighboring towns, such as Bilwi, and across the border into Honduras. The IACHR issued three separate precautionary measures in response to the violence. The government largely ignored the issuances but answered one precautionary measure in a public letter; however, it failed to address potential solutions.
Indigenous women faced multiple levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender, and lower economic status.
The National Commission of Demarcation and Titling, Attorney General’s Office, and Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies did not make any progress in demarcating indigenous lands. Additionally, the government failed to relocate or remove nonindigenous populations from ancestral indigenous lands, leading to significant violence throughout the year, specifically in the RACN.
Representatives of autonomous regions and indigenous communities regularly noted the government failed to invest in infrastructure. Throughout the year indigenous leaders alleged regional and national governments granted logging concessions to private firms and government-affiliated businesses, such as ALBA-Forestal, and logging continued in violation of national autonomy laws in the RACS and the RACN.
Indigenous groups were increasingly concerned about violations of their rights in connection with plans to build an interoceanic canal. Many allege that the concession to do so was granted illegally and without the required consultations with the indigenous community. For example, while the president of the Rama-Creole government had signed an authorization for the canal to be built on Rama-Creole land, members of the indigenous territorial government had not consented to his doing so. Indigenous groups, moreover, are not members of the Grand Canal Authority, which oversees the implementation of the canal project and was also established without consultations. There were a limited number of presentations on the canal to indigenous populations, but groups claim these were inadequate.
Violations of indigenous lands continued in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, RACN, according to press reports. The Mayangna indigenous group, which has territorial rights to much of the Bosawas Reserve, strongly criticized the government’s unwillingness to prevent alleged land grabs by nonindigenous settlers, as well as illegal logging and other exploitation of natural resources. This also occurred regularly in the Indio Maiz Reserve.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Although sexual orientation is not mentioned specifically, the law states all persons are equal before the law and provides for the right to equal protection. LGBTI persons, however, continued to face widespread societal discrimination and abuse, particularly in housing, education, and employment. The LGBTI community generally believed the special prosecutor for sexual diversity had insufficient resources. No specific laws exist to punish hate crimes against LGBTI groups. The family code, a set of laws pertaining to family-related matters, establishes that a family comprises a man and a woman joined in marriage or common-law marriage. This discriminatory definition most affected the LGBTI community in the areas of adoption and access to social security benefits.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law provides specific protections for persons with HIV/AIDS against discrimination in employment and health services, but such persons continued to suffer societal discrimination. Although some improvements were recognized among health-care workers after training, a lack of awareness and education persisted in that sector and in the public generally regarding the prevention, treatment, and transmission of HIV/AIDS.
A nondiscrimination administrative resolution issued by the Ministry of Health establishes methods to file complaints against health workers in cases of discrimination against persons working in prostitution, HIV/AIDS patients, or on the basis of gender orientation. The resolution also establishes sanctions for health workers found to have discriminated against patients for these reasons.