BOLIVIA: Children's rights in the Special Procedures' reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.

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Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere


Country visit: 4 to 10 September 2012
Report published: 19 April 2013

  • International human rights legal instruments:
  • At the international level, Bolivia is a State party to most United Nations human rights treaties. It has not yet ratified the [...] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure. (para 9)
  • At the regional level, Bolivia has ratified the [...] Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Young People. (para 10)
  • Access to employment, education, health care and other services:
  • It was noted that indigenous peoples faced two challenges in their access to education: insufficient access to education facilities, and exclusion of their culture and traditions from formal education curricula. It was reported that, although Law No. 1565 on Education Reform of 1994 reinforces bilingual and intercultural education, its implementation remains weak. Access to formal education for indigenous peoples and communities is severely restricted, particularly in rural areas. According to the 2001 census, the illiteracy rate for the indigenous population reached 19.61 per cent as against 4.51 per cent for the non-indigenous population. Of particular concern is the situation in rural areas, where illiteracy rates of indigenous women largely exceeds that of men. The recent alphabetization campaign Yo si puedo produced positive outcomes. According to information provided by the Ministry of Education, the campaign is expected to slash the illiteracy rate for the entire Bolivian population. It is not yet clear, however, how the expected reduction will directly benefit indigenous peoples. (para 38)
  • Situation of the Afro-Bolivian community:
  • The Special Rapporteur was informed that, given that Afro-Bolivian persons were not included in the census conducted in 2001, there is a lack of relevant statistics and data on how many Afro-Bolivians actually live in the country and the percentage that has access to education [...]. (para 66)
  • The Special Rapporteur was informed that a large number of Afro-Bolivians still suffered systematically from the lack of justice, reporting mechanisms and impartiality of public administration and police officials. He shares the concern that, although there has been a significant drop in racist expressions and language in the media since the adoption of Law No. 045, racist abuse and attacks against and racial profiling of Afro-Bolivians is still prevalent in everyday life contexts – [...] in [...] schools, universities and other public places [...]. (para 67)
  • Role of education:
  • The authorities pointed out that important aspects of the new Plurinational State Constitution – respect for indigenous communities, the principle of non-exclusion, the full recognition of interculturality and multilinguism – had been incorporated into the current education system. The national plan of action for human rights of 2008 includes specific actions on introducing intercultural and multilingual education, and has provided a significant impetus to the adoption of the Education Act No. 070 of December 2010, which promotes the process of decolonization of education in Bolivia, as well as the strengthening of multiculturalism and multilinguism. In 2008, three intercultural indigenous universities were established by Government decision: including Tupac Katari University, an Aymara university located in the town of Warisata, near La Paz; Casimiro Huanca University, a Quechua university in the central province of Cochabamba; and Apiahuayqui Tupa University, a Guarani university in the southern province of Chuquisaca. The universities offer various programmes useful for students to apply their knowledge for the development of their regions, including high plains agronomy, food and textile industry studies, veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, forestry, fishery and hydrocarbons. Furthermore, a plurinational institute of languages has been established for the study and standardization of the languages of indigenous peoples, and to define linguistic policies. (para 74)
  • It was noted, however, that educational sector reform is still in progress, and much needs to be done to ensure that education serves as a major instrument of social inclusion. Indigenous peoples, Bolivians of African descent, migrants and other marginalized groups continue to experience significant disadvantages in terms of educational outcomes. (para 75)
  • During the meetings held with the representatives of indigenous communities and Afro-Bolivians, concerns were expressed about the persistence of the legacy of the former colonial system, in particular in public universities, where indigenous peoples and Afro- Bolivians still face various barriers to access, and the number of students from those communities is still very low. The Special Rapporteur shares the concern expressed at the reported incidents of racial discrimination against indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivians in schools and universities. In some instances, students of indigenous origin are still not able to attend universities in their traditional clothing owing to persisting racist attitudes and behaviours of other university students. (para 76)
  • Conclusions and recommendations - Role of education:
  • The Special Rapporteur is concerned at the persisting barriers to access for indigenous peoples to institutions of higher education, and recommends that the Government take further action to support the access to education for indigenous peoples, Afro-Bolivians and other disadvantaged communities and groups. (para 105)
  • The Special Rapporteur recommends that schools and universities develop culturally-responsive practices and policies to improve access for and educational achievements of students from disadvantaged groups and communities. It is vital that tertiary institutions create a supportive and discrimination-free environment, and that they tailor programmes and initiatives to the specific needs of students from disadvantaged groups and communities. (para 106)


UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples
Rodolfo Stavenhagen
(A/HRC/11/11 )

Country visit: 25 November - 7 December 2007
Report published: 18 February 2009

Education: Nevertheless, complaints have been received of the failure to adapt the national education system to the traditional indigenous cultures and world view, and of the poor results achieved to date. According to the World Bank, school performance was 12 per cent lower among indigenous children than among non-indigenous children, and the average increase for each year of schooling is lower among indigenous than among non-indigenous children. (Paragraph 62)

Childbirth: The new Government has promoted a policy of "intercultural health", whose components include the adaptation of public health services to traditional indigenous medicine, including the strengthening of traditional medicine and the use of traditional plants. For its part, the Vice-Ministry of Traditional Medicine and Interculturalism, which comes under the Ministry of Health, has promoted a series of agreements with indigenous organisations aimed at incorporating and facilitating access to traditional indigenous medicine and to supporting the National Council on Indigenous Health. The Government has also promoted the inclusion of practices that respect indigenous women's customs relating to childbirth in the context of hospital care. (Paragraph 64)

Racism: Responsibility for the resurgence of racism in public life also lies in part with the communication media, almost all of which are controlled by sectors opposed to the current Administration. Some indigenous organisations have complained that the real situation of indigenous people in Bolivia has been distorted and that veritable media campaigns have been mounted against their leaders. There have been episodes of racially-tinged political violence, especially in Beni, Santa Cruz and other eastern departments, resulting from current political tensions, having to do, inter alia, with processes for the recovery and recognition of indigenous territories. The indigenous organisations in the lowlands complain of a campaign to persecute indigenous leaders and organisations orchestrated by powerful groups that bring together business sectors, local authorities, civic committees and other groups, such as the Santa Cruz Youth Union. Paragraph 68)


UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Jean Ziegler(A/HRC/7/5/Add.2 )
Country visit: 29 April – 6 May 2007

Report published: 30 January 2008

Child malnutrition: The objectives of the mission were to examine the realisation of the right to food in relation to Bolivia's international and national commitments to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to adequate food. Bolivia is the second poorest country in Latin America and has one of the highest levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment in the continent. However, today Bolivia is in an historic moment of transition under the new Government of Evo Morales, who became Bolivia's first indigenous President in January 2006. Morales has promised to make the fight against malnutrition and extreme poverty the key focus of his administration. (Paragraph 4)

Chronic malnutrition affects more than one in four Bolivian children. The highest levels of malnutrition are amongst Bolivians living in rural areas, especially in the high plains of the altiplano regions of Potosi and Chuquisaca, but also in the valleys and tropical lowland departments of Beni and Pando. (Paragraph 6)

Malnutrition levels are much higher amongst the poorest families. Children in the poorest households have levels of malnutrition six times that of children born into the richest 20 per cent of households. Families of indigenous Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní and other peoples are far more affected by chronic malnutrition (28 per cent) than non-indigenous children (16 per cent). Many of Bolivia's minorities, such as the 38,600 afro-bolivianos are also particularly affected by high levels of malnutrition. More than half of Bolivian children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, particularly of iron, iodine and Vitamin A, and 80 per cent of children between 6 and 23 months suffer from anaemia. Child mortality levels remain high, but regional disparities are severe - a baby born in the richer department of Tarija is three times more likely to live to see its first birthday than a baby born in the poorer department of Oruro. (Paragraph 7)

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the positive progress made in reducing malnutrition and poverty, but is concerned that the situation of malnutrition and food insecurity in Bolivia remains grave. Chronic malnutrition of a large proportion of Bolivia's infant children is of most concern, as they may be permanently affected by stunted physical and intellectual development. Malnutrition levels fell from 28.3 per cent to 24.2 per cent between 1994 and 2003, but there have been recent signs of regression, particularly in the departments of Potosi, Beni and Pando. Although infant mortality rates have fallen, Bolivia still has the second-highest infant mortality rate in Latin America. High levels of extreme poverty affecting about 35 per cent of the population (and more than two thirds of people living in some regions) means that millions of Bolivians remain so poor that they cannot afford sufficient food to meet daily calorific requirements. Although there has been some progress over the last 10 years, it has been very slow. In some regions the situation is far worse, such as in Potosi and Chuquisaca, where the number of people living in extreme poverty remains well above 60 per cent. (Paragraph 48)

 Forced labour: The Special Rapporteur received reports that forced labour, including situations of debt bondage, is still practised in some sectors in Bolivia, including the sugar cane industry, the Brazil nut industry and on private ranches (haciendas) in the region of the Chaco. The majority of labourers are held in some form of debt bondage. Estimates indicate that in 2003 there were approximately 21,000 forced labourers, including women and children, in the sugar cane industry in the Santa Cruz area and between 5,000 and 6,000 people became forced labourers on a permanent or semi-permanent basis in the Brazil nut industry in the Pando and Beni (province of Vaca Diez) regions.41 Of particular concern is the situation of forced labour that the Guaraní people have to endure on some private ranches in the provinces of Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Tarija in the Chaco region. The ILO estimates that 7,000 people from the Guaraní indigenous group are held in forced labour although the Government's figures in 1999 referred to 3,179 people (578 families living on 106 ranches). They are held in debt bondage and in some cases threats and violence are common to prevent them from leaving the ranches. As they are paid extremely low wages which do not cover their basic living costs, they are forced to rely on credit from their employers. In addition, women and children are expected to work but are not paid at all. The Guaraní families on these ranches are rarely given any land to cultivate their own crops. (Paragraph 53)

Milk formulas: While national law and policy promote breastfeeding to fight under-nutrition of babies and infants, this is reportedly being undermined by aggressive marketing by corporations (including Nestlé) promoting milk formulas that suggests that these formulas are more nutritious than breast milk. The Special Rapporteur received documented information of the persistence of aggressive marketing which contravened the national Ley de Fomento a la Lactancia Materna y Comercialización de sus Sucedáneos as well as the international standards encoded in the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Special Rapporteur was informed that much of the obvious publicity by corporations would be banned after the adoption of the new regulation concretising the national law. (Paragraph 54)


UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty


Report published: 15 March 2002

Report available in Spanish.


UN Independent Expert on Structural Adjustment and Foreign Debt

Mr. Bernards Mudho

Country visit: 15 May – 18 May 2001
Report published: 23 October 2002

Child nutrition/mortality: The current alarming macroeconomic indicators15 are attributed to the ineffective policy of adjustment adopted by the Government. The gap between rich and poor Argentines has increased drastically in the past months, with the brutal reduction of public expenditures and essential State functions. As a result, of the 35.5 million inhabitants, 18.2 million have been below the poverty line since May 2002, representing 51.4 per cent of the population and reflecting an increase of 26 per cent over 2001 estimates. Children and teenagers account for 66.6 per cent of these poor, with a negative impact on child nutrition and an increase in child mortality. (Paragraph 49)

The progress report on the implementation of MDG in Bolivia, issued in 2001, focuses on the achievements made in the country and the challenges that lie ahead in the following areas: extreme poverty; universal primary education; gender equality; child mortality; maternal health; HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environment and sustainable development; and global society for development. Successful coverage of these areas will require a strong financial support from the international community. Such support, which falls within the priorities of assistance for development, would range from increased access to concessional lending opportunities to the design of a sustainable development strategy ... through in-depth reforms of institutions and legislation. (Paragraph 52)


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