Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014, in a process deemed free but whose fairness was questioned by international observers, citizens re-elected President Evo Morales Ayma, leader of the Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS), for a third term. In 2016 the government held a referendum to allow the president to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly fair and free.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included torture; harsh prison conditions; lack of judicial independence and widespread corruption in the law enforcement and judicial system, leading to denial of a fair and timely public trial; prosecutions of political opponents whom some analysts characterized as political prisoners; use of tax audits to punish press critical of the government, censorship, and physical assaults on journalists produced severe restrictions on freedom of the press; selective enforcement of regulations significantly to interfere in the exercise of freedom of assembly and association; corruption at all levels of government, with immunity from prosecution afforded senior officials; societal killings of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, which the government investigated in some cases; trafficking in persons; mob violence couched as vigilante justice; and forced labor and child labor.
Although the government took steps in some cases to prosecute members of the security services and other government officials who committed abuses, inconsistent application of the law and a dysfunctional judiciary led to impunity.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult (man or woman). 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.
In 2013 the government passed the Law Guaranteeing Women a Life Free from Violence, but a lack of resources and training on the law and slow judicial processes continued to prohibit the law’s full implementation, according to the United Nations Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups.Domestic violence was endemic.
The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in prison. Activists said that corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide. According to the state attorney general, there were 73 cases of femicide between January 1 and September 30.
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, in part because of economic dependence.
The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. The municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children.
Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
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. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work.
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–the most recent available–indicated that 56 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by age 12.
Child Abuse: Rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported at least 34 cases of infanticide between January and November 2016. The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13 years old. (For additional information, see UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey at .)
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. 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.
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 students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.
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 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. 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.
Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited ease of movement in La Paz and other urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities.
On August 11, the Legislative Assembly approved a law that provides 250 bolivianos ($37) per month to those who have “serious and severe” disabilities. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities. Municipalities that cannot find work for these individuals must pay them the bonus as an alternate form of compensation.
The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discrimination 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. In 2016 the government carried out programs to increase access to potable water and sanitation in rural areas where indigenous persons predominated.
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.
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. The human rights ombudsman reported in May that the government registered 64 killings of LGBTI individuals in the last 10 years. The government investigated 14 cases, but the courts had not sentenced anyone for these crimes.“
A 2016 gender identity law allows members of the transgender community to change their name, sexual identification, and picture on all legal identity cards and birth certificates. Following the promulgation of the law, more than 140 persons officially changed the identity documents to reflect their gender.” On June 27, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal expanded the law by granting transsexual and transgender persons the right to marry legally. On November 9, however, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled a portion of the 2016 law unconstitutional, specifically the article that allows transgender individuals to “exercise all fundamental, political, labor, civil, economic and social rights.” On November 24, the court stated that the Legislative Assembly must specifically address the issue of marriage and adoption for transgender individuals.
According to the LGBTI activist community, “biological women” often failed to include transsexual women in advocacy efforts when fighting for greater rights for women in society.
According to activist sources in the LGBTI community, violence against transgender persons decreased due in part to better community awareness of LGBTI issues. For example, the Santa Cruz police commander regularly received updates from LGBTI activists about the violence and social problems the community faced. Moreover, the commander allowed transgender individuals that were incarcerated to be held in areas in accordance to their chosen sex. Police continued to be a threat to transgender individuals engaged in sex work.
LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported in 2016 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.
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
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 also least successful in diagnosing cases.
Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence in lieu of justice was a consequence of limited police resources and an inefficient judicial system. Supporters of mob violence in lieu of justice claimed limited policing and lack of faith in the justice system properly to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence couched as vigilante justice.