Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The length of the sentence depends on the victim’s age and other factors, such as the assailant’s use of violence or position of influence over the victim. The judicial branch generally enforced the law. According to a local nongovernmental organization, rape was underreported due to fear of retribution, further violence, social stigma, or lack of trust in the judicial system.
According to the National Institute of Women (INAMU), the rape law applies to spousal rape, although such cases were much more difficult to prove. The judicial branch and the social security system continued to implement a program for collecting physical evidence in cases of rape so that victims could receive immediate attention. The program also provided training to emergency services staff. Four locations in the country, besides the judicial forensic clinic, had rape kits to collect and analyze physical evidence for use in prosecutions. In May the judicial branch and the social security system organized a weeklong training event focusing on capacity building for officials responding to victims of sexual violence; the audience consisted of judges, prosecutors, investigators, medical professionals, and social workers from across the country.
The government continued to identify domestic violence against women and children as a serious and growing societal problem. The judicial branch reported that 39 women died from gender-based violence (including 28 femicides) during 2015. INAMU reported that 12 women were killed (including seven femicides) during the first six months of the year. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners. If a domestic violence offender has no violent criminal record and is sentenced to fewer than three years’ imprisonment, the law also provides for alternative sanctions, such as weekend detentions and assistance, including referrals for social services and rehabilitation. In 2015, according to the judicial branch’s statistics office, authorities opened 18,693 cases of domestic violence throughout the country, but only 859 cases were tried and 517 persons sentenced for crimes of violence against women, including six homicides. According to the Attorney General’s Office, not all cases originated from a report from a victim, and frequently victims refused to continue with the legal process.
INAMU assisted women and their children who were victims of domestic violence in its regional office in San Jose and in three other specialized centers and temporary shelters. INAMU maintained a domestic abuse hotline connected to the 911 emergency telephone system and provided counseling and protection to women and their children.
The public prosecutor, police, and ombudsman have offices dedicated to addressing domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution. The Ombudsman’s Office received 116 complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace between January and June. INAMU reported and assisted in investigating 18 cases of sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. In 2015 the president signed an executive order legalizing in-vitro fertilization to comply with the 2012 Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) order to reinstate women’s right to undergo the procedure. In February the Supreme Court struck down the executive order, but in March the IACHR upheld it, and the order went into effect legalizing in-vitro fertilization.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The government maintained offices for gender-related problems in most ministries. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for investigating allegations of gender discrimination. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work. In 2014 the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) estimated earnings for women were 92 percent of earned income for men. INAMU enhanced women’s economic empowerment through programs on employment quality, support networks, seed capital, and entrepreneurship.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. There were occasional problems encountered in the registration at birth of children born of migrant parents. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children continued to be a problem. The autonomous National Institute for Children (PANI) reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, with 10,889 cases from January to June. Traditional attitudes and the inclination to treat sexual and psychological abuse as misdemeanors hampered legal proceedings against persons accused of committing crimes against children. PANI implemented awareness campaigns to prevent abuse, humiliating treatment, neglect, and commercial sexual exploitation. The Ombudsman’s Office considered efforts by public institutions to prevent violence and promote positive parenting were unsuccessful or insufficient.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18, or 15 with parental consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 15 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. Sentences are lengthier in aggravated circumstances; for example, rape involving physical violence or a victim under the age of 13 is punishable by 10 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The government, security officials, and child advocacy organizations acknowledged that commercial sexual exploitation of children was a serious problem. From January to June, PANI reported 21 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of minors. PANI belongs to the executive branch and works with a different database, which includes all complaints filed of alleged cases, than the one for the judicial branch, which includes prosecuted cases only. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.
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.
The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were 3,000 Jews in the country. There were no 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 constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. Discriminatory practices were reported in access to education, employment, information, public buildings, and transportation. The law establishes a clear right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. The government began registering eligible candidates in May, according to the National Council of Disabled Persons.
Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Both the government policy on education and the national plan for higher education establish the right to education for students with special needs. The Ministry of Education operated a program for persons with disabilities that provided support services to students with disabilities in both mainstream and special education systems.
A political party, Accessibility without Exclusion, represented the interests of persons with disabilities and held one seat in the legislative assembly. The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities.
In 2015 INEC reported that 38 percent of inhabitants in the heavily Afro-descendant Atlantic region lived in poverty, compared with the national average of 22 percent. The Atlantic region had one of the country’s highest rates of unemployment (12 percent in 2015) and crime (22.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015, or double the national average of 11.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants). Lack of government investment in infrastructure contributed to Limon, a province with twice the national average of Afro-descendant population, being one of the least developed areas of the country.
The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure the right mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts.
There were sporadic reports of discrimination, including racial/ethnic discrimination, as well as labor discrimination, usually directed against Nicaraguans. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded five complaints of racial/ethnic discrimination, including denial, deficiency, or mistreatment in health-care services as well as restriction of freedom of association, during the first six months of the year. Two cases against judicial prosecutors accused of racial slurs against coworkers were first made public in February; one prosecutor was sentenced to a one-month suspension, while the other case remained under investigation.
Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. Violent incidents at the Bribri Salitre and Cabagra reservations over land disputes between indigenous inhabitants and nonindigenous reemerged during the year. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands. On April 10, during an official visit to the reservations, government authorities stated they were committed to improving security and streamlining the provision of assistance from public institutions.
On March 15, the government issued an executive directive to begin the process of establishing a consultative mechanism with the indigenous peoples, and on April 13, the government announced it would conduct a series of workshops with leaders of the 24 indigenous territories.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. Transgender persons were able to change their gender on their identity documents through an administrative law judge’s decision and later registration in the Civil Registry Office.
There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms. In 2015 a family court recognized the first “gay common-law marriage,” basing the decision on the 2013 youth law that includes a provision legalizing domestic partnership benefits only for persons between 18 and 35 years of age. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court was studying a constitutional challenge against that provision of the youth law but as of August had not issued a ruling. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling stated that the decision on same-sex civil unions is a legislative one; at year’s end, however, the legislative assembly had not passed legislation addressing that issue.
On March 3, two women who married filed a constitutionality complaint before the Supreme Court to prevent the annulment of their marriage, alleging a provision of the family law that prohibits same-sex unions is unconstitutional. The Civil Registry Office in 2015 filed a complaint against the two women, alleging this was an unlawful marriage because the registry had listed one of them as a man. The judicial inspection tribunal was investigating a judge who issued a ruling recognizing the first “gay common-law marriage.”
In May the government reformed regulations applying to government employees and students to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and to extend bereavement leave benefits to include same-sex partners. In June the social security system approved a survivor pension for same-sex couples, complementing the 2014 regulation that extends insurance benefits to same-sex couples.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, discrimination occurred. The Ombudsman’s Office reported seven complaints of service denial, deficiencies, or mistreatment in health care toward HIV-positive patients during the first six months of the year.