Last Updated 7 October 2021

Paraguay is a presidential republic with a population of 7 million that borders Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil.1 It is also home to 19 indigenous communities.2

According to the most recent census to capture the religious demography of the country (2002), 89% of the population is Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant, 3% other or unspecified and only 1% non-religious.3 More recent estimates suggest that the number of non-religious individuals may have risen to 2% of the population, but the wider predominance of Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular, remains.4

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Under Article 24 of the Constitution of Paraguay,5; the country is secular. However, the same provision contains special consideration of the relationship between the State and the Catholic Church clarifying that, “relations between the State and the Catholic Church are based on independence, cooperation, and autonomy”.

Political parties with a religious affiliation are not prohibited under the law. However, ministers or clergy of any religion are ineligible to run as candidates for deputies or senators (Article 197).

Registration with the Vice Ministry of Worship, which sits under the Ministry of Education and Culture, is a requirement for all religious and philosophical groups, but they have no controls imposed on them, and there are many informal churches.6

Cultural dominance of Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church as the predominant religious group, with considerable historical influence, is said to exert more influence in society and politics than other religious groups. Its “predominant” role in the historical and cultural formation of the nation is officially recognized under Article 89 of the Constitution. Church representatives are reported to often comment publicly on congressional legislation, sometimes impacting the shaping of public policy.7

Education and children’s rights

Chapter VII of the Constitution governs the “Right to Education and Culture.”

Specifically, Article 74 guarantees:

“The right to learn and to equal opportunities to access the benefits of the humanistic culture, of science, and of technology, without any discrimination, is guaranteed.
“The freedom to teach, without any requirement other than suitability [idoneidad] and ethical integrity, as well as the right to a religious education and to ideological pluralism are also guaranteed.”

Public schools do not give religious instruction, but private religious schools have the option to do so.

Registered religious organizations are permitted to open private schools and receive state subsidies.8 According to Freedom House, “Religious groups unaffiliated with the Catholic Church claim the government disproportionately subsidizes Catholic schools.”9 This would seem to be supported by data from the Ministry of Education and Culture that the state provided subsidies to 494 schools over the course of 2020, of which 252 were Roman Catholic and 242 were of various other religious affiliations.10

According to the US State Department:11

“Students belonging to religious groups other than the one associated with a private religious school may enroll; however, all students are expected to participate in religious activities that are a mandatory part of the schedule.“

In 2017, Paraguay became the first country in the world to ban gender issues from school lessons12 due to the support of conservative Christian groups based in the US, such as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).13 At the time of the ban, the then Minister for Education swore he would burn any books that contained so-called “gender ideology.”14

In April 2020, the Archbishop of Asunción called for a 30% subsidy of teachers’ fees in order to keep its schools open. In response, the Federation of Associations of Parents of Students of Public Institutions of Paraguay (Fedapar) called on the government to grant such subsidies to all private institutions regardless of their religious affiliation, noting the difficulties caused by COVID-19 in access faced by many children whether attending public or private institutions.15

Rights of children and adolescents

Cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of children are reportedly prevalent in Paraguay.16;;

In December 2020, a draft National Plan for Childhood and Adolescence 2020-2024 – which sought to address sexual abuse, issues of violence, and the need for comprehensive sexuality education – was withdrawn for redrafting following statements made by members of the Catholic Church that argued that the Plan would promote the destruction of conservative family values.17;;

It appears that groups opposed to the Plan particularly objected to the proposals around sex education, the teaching of sexuality with a gender lens, and issues surrounding sexual reproductive health.18 Conservative opponents appeared concerned that the use of the term “gender” was a means to introduce the “LGBTI+ agenda.” The Minister for Children agreed to meet several times more with representatives of parents whose children attend religious schools, the Episcopal Conference of Paraguay and other members of civil society.19 The Minister was also called to appear for questioning before Congress.

Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals

According to OpenDemocracy, “Paraguayan human rights activists are not surprised by the country’s leadership of the ultra-conservative agenda,” labelling it “a lab for anti-rights ideas.”20

Paraguay remains one of the only countries in the world not to have a law banning all forms of discrimination.

The rights of women

Conservative religious elements have rendered the term “gender” somewhat taboo in Paraguayan political life. In 2019, despite a high rate of femicide,21 the government cut the budget of the Ministry of Women by 5%.22

According to SOMOSGAY, a local group fighting for LGBTI+ equality, the newly elected Minister for Education and Science pronounced himself to be against unconventional family units, particularly those run by single mothers.23

In 2020, a court in San Lorenzo de Limpio dismissed charges against a Catholic priest accused of sexual harassment despite clear evidence, including his confession, to having groped her. The judges argued that for harassment to be proven there would have to be evidence that the priest was in a position of power over the Church’s Coordinator of its Youth Ministry, and that it was not just a one-off occurrence.24; The woman in question took the case to court after the archdiocese failed to investigate instead emphasising that the dignity of the priest must be safeguarded. In December, an appeals court overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial.25

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

Article 61 of the Constitution states:

“The State recognizes the right of persons to freely and responsibly decide the number and the frequency of the birth of their children, as well as to receive, in coordination with the pertinent organs[,] education, scientific orientation, and adequate services in the matter.

“Special plans of reproductive health and maternal-child health [care] for people of scarce resources will be established.”

However, under the Penal Code, abortion is only legal in cases where the pregnacy threatens the life of the mother.26

Over the course of 2017-2018, at least 10 Paraguayan cities publicly declared themselves to be “pro-life” and “pro-family.” Among those to declare themselves as such was the city Mariano Roque Alonso located in the Central Department, which held a celebration of the declaration in which representatives of various churches were present.27

In December 2020, members of the House of Representatives held a minute’s silence to memorialize “all the babies that will die” as a result of the legalization of abortion in neighbouring Argentina.28 Members of the House, reportedly sought to reiterate that the government is pro-life and pro-family, as asserted by a 2018 resolution.29

LGBTI+ rights

LGBTI+ activists suggest that there has been a backward trend in the realization of and respect for their rights in the country since 2018.30;;

Same-sex marriage remains illegal and there is no ban on conversion therapy.

According to Amnesty International,31

“There was no progress during the year in criminal complaints relating to attacks against LGBTI people during a 2019 Pride march in the city of Hernandarias. The municipality of Hernandarias had banned the march for being “contrary to public morality.” There was also no progress in the constitutional challenge presented by Amnesty International in October 2019 against this and another resolution declaring the city “pro-life and pro-family,” both decisions of the municipality of Hernandarias.”

Members of the trans community are particular targets for violence and impunity for attacks is prevalent. According to SOMOSGAY, at least 60 cases of murders of trans women remain unsolved.32

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but these rights are inconsistently upheld in practice. Criminal groups and corrupt authorities often pose life dangers and threats towards journalists, especially in remote border areas leading to a climate of self-censorship.33 In February 2020, Brazilian journalist Lourenço “Léo” Veras was shot and killed in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero. Veras had reported death threats from narcotraffickers.34

Freedom of association

According to Freedom House,35

“Paraguay has a strong culture of largely free nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights and governance. However, political access tends to be given to organizations made up of senior business figures or religious groups, while human rights groups are increasingly dismissed as reflecting an international liberal agenda.”


6, 7, 10, 11
9, 34, 35
13, 20

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