Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for conviction of the rape of an adult (man or woman), but it was rarely enforced.
The law prohibits domestic violence, but it too was rarely enforced. Conviction of domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for conviction of serious physical or psychological injury is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.
Lack of training regarding the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to hinder the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were survivors of a violent crime sometime in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home.
The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman and stipulates a sentence of 30 years in prison. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 62 femicides were registered from January to August, with La Paz registering 22 reported incidents of femicides, the most in all departments. On July 4, President Arce signed a law increasing penalties against judges who “mishandle” cases of femicides, infanticides, and sexual assaults against minors. The law also requires preventive detention for suspects of femicides and orders courts to act on femicide and sexual assault cases within 10 days. Legal observers expressed concern the government would exploit the law’s broad mandate to manipulate judges by accusing them of “mishandling cases,” a vague legal standard. They also noted the law’s promotion of preventive detention would exacerbate overcrowding in prisons. Activists stated corruption, a lack of adequate crime scene investigations, a lack of specialized prosecutors, and a dysfunctional, underfunded judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.
On January 22, police arrested Richard Choque after discovering the bodies of two young women in his backyard. Choque had been convicted of murdering another young woman in 2013 and sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole. In 2019, however, Choque allegedly paid a bribe to be released on house arrest, whereupon he allegedly victimized 77 more women. On January 31, hundreds of protesters marched from Choque’s house in El Alto to the Prosecutor’s Office in La Paz demanding justice for femicide victims. On March 2, Choque was sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole for the 2021 murder of a teenager, age 17.
On August 17, Érika Alvarado, a mother of three, set herself on fire after being beaten by her partner. She died of burns 25 days later. According to media reports, Alvarado had suffered from depression due to repeated abuse.
Women’s rights organizations reported police assigned to the Special Force Against Violence did not have sufficient resources and frontline officers lacked proper training regarding their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence survivors received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after languishing in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the survivor was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial processes, and financial burdens discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.
A 2014 law called for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments, but as of year’s end only four departments had shelters. Human rights activists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers. Activists stated that shelters mixed vulnerable women, girls, juvenile delinquents, human trafficking victims, sexual abuse survivors, and minors with mental-health problems.
Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a criminal offense punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups) and said the law was rarely enforced.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Civil society representatives noted information on access to reproductive health could be difficult to obtain in rural areas due to lack of medical infrastructure.
The law provides for access to contraceptives, but according to the reproductive rights organization Marie Stopes International-Bolivia, many public healthcare providers refused to provide the service and stigmatized the patients who requested contraceptives. Some providers required the consent of an adult woman’s husband or other male family member before providing her with contraceptives and would not provide contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent. Misinformation and social taboos made women hesitant to seek contraceptives.
Lack of access to quality medical care in remote areas adversely affected access to skilled health care attendance during pregnancy and birth. In addition, many Indigenous women feared their cultural traditions regarding who should be present at the birth, the treatment of the placenta, and treatment of the umbilical cord would not be respected if they gave birth in a hospital or clinic.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception. These services were more readily available in urban areas. Rural areas lacked access and frequently relied on mobile health centers such as those provided by Marie Stopes International.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 155 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The Pan American Health Organization reported one-third of all maternal deaths were caused by obstetric hemorrhage, usually postpartum. Another leading cause of maternal death was unsafe, clandestine abortions; access to adequate postabortion care and obstetric emergency services was limited.
The maternal mortality rate was higher among Indigenous women due to lack of access to adequate medical services. In El Alto, the second largest city, largely composed of Indigenous persons, the maternal mortality rate was 316 per 100,000 live births. The higher mortality rate was attributed to the city’s slow-growing health-care system not keeping pace with the city’s 30 percent population growth in the last 10 years.
Girls in rural areas lacked access to menstrual hygiene products, which affected their performance in school. The law prohibits schools from expelling pregnant girls, but 25 percent of pregnant girls dropped out of school in 2019 either because of social pressure, lack of government assistance, or both.
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. The government did not enforce the law effectively.
In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than age 15 self-identified as Indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities.
Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a major political problem. Historically, some Indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu (traditional form of a community) 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.
Many Indigenous groups were well represented in government and politics but suffered a disproportionately large share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many Indigenous groups living in remote areas.
Lowlands Indigenous groups complained they were not well represented in government or by elected representatives. These Indigenous groups resided in three departments of the country’s eastern lowlands: Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. These Indigenous groups included several ethnic and linguistic groups that considered themselves distinct from the Aymara and Quechua Indigenous groups of the highland plateau region. Leaders of the Indigenous communities of lowlands Santa Cruz Department described growing anger and frustration with the national government for continuing a land policy developed under former President Evo Morales. A prominent Indigenous leader said the government was supporting mining and hydrocarbon exploitation of lands without consulting Indigenous populations. The leader also noted a campaign of intimidation and harassment to silence defenders of Indigenous rights.
In August the Ombudswoman’s Office concluded the rights of the Leco Indigenous group had been violated due to the government failing to consult with them regarding mining activities in the La Paz Department.
The government identified 10 Indigenous populations at risk of extinction. One of those was the Araona, whose leaders claimed they had been abandoned by the government. They reported the nearest health clinic was a four-day boat ride away. They had only one teacher to educate their population of nearly 1,000 persons and lacked textbooks and supplies.
An Indigenous group in the northern region of the country alleged many of its members were becoming sick due to eating fish contaminated with mercury used in gold mining. In September the UN special rapporteur on toxics and human rights confirmed that in that region, women of the Ese’Ejja Indigenous community were suffering from extremely high levels of mercury from consuming contaminated fish.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2018 civil registry indicated 78 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 96 percent by age 12. Birth registration was provided on a nondiscriminatory basis.
Child Abuse: The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13. Rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported 28 cases of infanticide between January and August. The office also reported 1,884 cases of child abuse from January to August, compared with 1,262 cases in 2021. NGOs assessed the actual number of abused children as likely much higher.
Child, 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 younger than 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with sentences of 10- to 15-years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law.
The Ombudswoman’s Office reported 1,318 cases of rape against minors in the first half of the year. The penalty for statutory rape of an adolescent age 14 to 17 is three to six years’ imprisonment. The penalty for having sex with a child younger than age 14 is 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment, even if there is no use of force or intimidation and consent is alleged.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Activists reported transgender individuals who were sex workers faced violence and threats, which was common in the sex worker industry.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The government did not enforce the law effectively.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons faced overt discrimination in the workplace, at school, and in access to government services, especially in health care. Older LGBTQI+ persons experienced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner. Transgender activists stated most of the transgender community turned to commercial sex to earn a living due to discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licenses.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identification cards and birth certificates after undergoing a psychological evaluation and appearing before the Civil Registry Service.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no reports of the practice of so-called conversion therapy and the practice of performing unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no restrictions on freedom of expression, association, or peaceful assembly regarding LGBTQI+ issues or convening related events.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities encountered difficulties accessing education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. 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 law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities be entitled to government payments of 250 bolivianos ($36) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited access in most urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. Official action was rarely taken to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.
Secondary schools reported that many students with disabilities stopped attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic because they could not attend virtual classes. They either lacked internet access or their disability prevented them from following lessons on a computer. In August the Ombudswoman’s Office said 65 percent of persons with disabilities had either no formal education or had completed only primary school.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS was most severe in Indigenous communities, where the government was less able to diagnose cases, either because persons were less willing to be tested or the government lacked the resources to reach individuals in remote areas.
Activists reported discrimination forced persons with HIV to seek medical attention outside the country.