Chile Expands Femicide Law, Continuing Efforts to Reduce Violence Against Women

Photo Credit: Martin Bernetti/ AFP via Getty Image

By: Lindsey LaCamera, 2L

Femicide, as classified by Chilean law, is the murder of a woman by her current or former intimate partner. Although the country has the lowest homicide rate in Latin America, the number of violent crimes against women remains high. In 2010, responding to this issue, the legislature passed Law No. 20,480 which defined femicide, but limited its applicability to perpetrators who currently or previously lived with the victims. Law No. 20,480 also established harsher penalties for femicide than homicide.

Ten years later, the legislature passed Gabriela’s Law. Gabriela’s law served two purposes: (1) to expand the definition of femicide to anyone who commits a gender-motivated homicide of a woman and (2) to impose longer prison sentences on those found guilty of homicide. A perpetrator of femicide faces a sentence of 15 to 40 years in prison, whereas a perpetrator of homicide faces only 10 to 15 years. Expansion of the law was important because it prevented individuals guilty of gender-motivated homicide from evading the appropriate penalties simply because they had never lived with their victim. 

In May 2023, the Chilean government enacted a trailblazing piece of legislation that expanded protections for the victims of femicide and their families. Although other Latin American countries have enacted femicide laws, Law No. 21,565 is the first to provide for reparations for children affected by femicide. 

Importantly, Law No. 21,565 also provides the survivors of attempted femicide a shield against adverse employment action for one year after the crime was committed. A woman who has survived an attempt on her life not only has the responsibility of healing from her physical and mental wounds; but also must aid the police and appear in court to ensure that her perpetrator is duly punished. Under the new law, employers must accept as justification for absence from work the employee’s appearance in investigatory and judicial proceedings.

The Chilean government has made a concerted effort to end gender-based violence. Incidentally, the country hosts the lowest femicide rate in Latin America. Unfortunately, there are still substantial rates of femicide in numerous Latin American countries, with Honduras hosting the highest rate, over nine times greater than Chile. Although Chile has not reached its ultimate goal of eliminating gender-based violence, it has made great strides in protecting its women. Those countries which have not yet enacted gender-based homicide laws would do well to follow in Chile’s footsteps.

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