By Meredith Shea
Costa Rica is an electoral democracy with a relatively high quality of life compared to the rest of the Latin American region. Still, inside the Costa Rican home, domestic violence rates are consistently high—a serious and persistent problem noted on various kinds of government and Non-Governmental Organization data sites.

Domestic violence is an issue seen worldwide, and “experts agree that women are most exposed and unsafe in their own homes.”[1] Not only is domestic violence devastating for the affected families, but it also “fragments communities, and prevents countries from developing.”[2]  Oftentimes, an indicator of country development is measured in gross domestic product (GDP). The Inter-American Development Bank determined that countries in Latin America invest 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) in domestic violence victim aid.[3]  This aid is inclusive of “surgeries, physician and pharmacy visits, hospital stays, and mental health consultations” associated with various acts of domestic violence.[4]

While the countries in the region vary in economic development, democratic tendencies, and implementation of human rights law,  Costa Rica is a stable democracy with top ranking Human Development Index[5] and Freedom House[6] scores. After abolishing its military over 60 years ago, Costa Rica is a unique country. The lack of defense funding allows for the distribution of country resources elsewhere. While Costa Rica does not concern itself with inter-state violent conflict, within the state, it continues to battle with domestic violence. In 1996, Costa Rica enacted the Law against Domestic Violence, which does the following:

allows protective measures to be enforced without criminal or civil proceedings. Under this law, anyone who inflicts psychological, physical, or sexual violence on a relative may be ordered out of the home and prohibited access to the victim, be temporarily barred from caring for, raising, and educating any underage children, have weapons taken, and be ordered to pay for the family’s food, medical care, and any property that was damaged during the assault.[7]

Additionally, Costa Rica implemented a National Plan to Treat and Prevent Intra-Family Violence in order to heighten “public awareness and sensitivity to the problem” and to create an “extended existing network of shelters and an emergency hotline” involving over 1,000 employees.[8] Moreover, in January 2012 new gun regulation laws went into effect to protect civilians in their homes and in communities, stating, “anyone with prior convictions for domestic violent or other violence drug-related crimes will not be allowed to own firearms.”[9]

While these are important precedents for the other countries of Central America, the 2012 Freedom House Costa Rica report states, “violence against women and children is a major problem.”[10] Outside of the home, Costa Rica continues to struggle with women’s rights as “women still face discrimination in the economic realm. Female domestic workers are subject to exploitation; they lack legal protections, receive the lowest minimum wage, and are excluded from social security programs.”[11] Costa Rica remains a trafficking transit and destination country, as the country was downgraded in 2011 from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.[12]  Costa Rica, like many other countries in the region, continues to struggle and develop its policy on domestic violence and women’s rights.


Meredith Shea is a senior at Penn, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Creative Writing. She is currently writing her thesis on the relationship between human rights and democratization in Latin America. 

[1] Liz Creel’s “Domestic Violence: An Ongoing Threat to Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” <>

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] For more information,

[6] For more information,

[7] Liz Creel’s “Domestic Violence: An Ongoing Threat to Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” <>

[8] Ibid.



[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid


Image c/o

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.