August 9th is the National Day of Solidarity with Victims of Sexual Violence and Against Sexual Violence of Girls, Boys, and Adolescents in Bolivia, a day we mark each year alongside our partners. This year, in addition to a packed slate of activities (including a live virtual discussion, which you can tune into at 6 pm EDT or later on the Breeze of Hope Facebook page if you understand Spanish), there is a particular reason for hope. Bolivia is moving forward with new legal protections for child victims of sexual violence.
What are these new protections, and what impact will they have?
In addition to an upcoming bill which seeks a range of changes to the Penal Code in order to address violence against women, including sexual violence, a law was recently passed which addresses some specific aspects of sexual and gender-based violence. In essence, the newly passed law will:
- increase penalties for femicide, infanticide, and rape of infants, girls, boys, and adolescents for perpetrators and for justice officials that don´t comply with the law and procedures;
- eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, femicide, and infanticide against girls, boys, and adolescents; and
- establish that there will be no house arrest or precautionary measures in these cases regardless of the time it takes for the case to be investigated and processed.
This progress comes following the Inter-American Court hearing in Brisa’s case and recommendations from UN bodies which echo several joint submissions we’ve made, including to CEDAW, urging that Bolivia comply with international human rights standards. The government of Bolivia has committed to following these recommendations, and various officials, including the President and legislators, have publicly recognized the urgency of making these changes a reality.
Patricia Bráñez, National Coordinator of CLADEM Bolivia, says “the elimination from the Penal Code of the statute of limitations for sexual violence crimes would advance protections and human rights, especially for girls and adolescents, because it means recognizing the multiple obstacles they face in accessing justice, and the impacts that sexual violence has on the lives of girls and adolescents, by allowing them to bring a case even years later, as an adult.”
She adds that if the crime of estupro is also eliminated, it will help people to understand that there is no such thing as rape with consent, will take the burden off of girls and adolescents, and will increase the penalties for such rapes to 15-25 years in prison.
What else has to change for children and adolescents to be protected from sexual violence in Bolivia?
Although Bolivia has made progress in recent decades on protections for victims of sexual violence, current policies and practices don’t comply with regional human rights standards, and the country still has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America.
Patricia Bráñez feels that, in addition to the changes to the Penal Code, what’s most important is:
- Comprehensive Sexuality Education in both the formal and informal educational curricula
- The health system commits to guaranteeing safe and free access to abortion in cases of sexual violence and risk to the life of the woman, girl, or adolescent
- Broad prevention and support mechanisms that are effective for women, girls, and adolescents
As we once again mark this important day, let’s hope that this forward momentum continues and that concrete change comes soon for survivors of sexual violence in Bolivia.