Peru Society and Conflict: Discrimination and Inequality

Discrimination and Inequality

Indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) communities in Peru have traditionally faced social and economic discrimination and political marginalisation. In the colonial period and early years of independence, they were largely excluded from key positions of power in favour of elites of Spanish descent. Such discriminatory power structures continued throughout the twentieth century.

During the country’s armed conflict, which began in 1980, three-quarters of the war’s victims came from families whose mother tongue was Quechua (or another indigenous language). Under the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori (1990 – 2000) indigenous and peasant communities became the targets of a population control programme that resulted in an estimated 300,000 women being forcibly sterilised.

Today, indigenous groups also suffer disproportionately from poverty. In 2009 UNICEF calculated that 78% of children whose first language was Quechua or Aymara lived in poverty, compared to 40% of those whose mother tongue was Spanish. In 2011 the Corporación Andinda de Formento, a multilateral development bank, reported that while nationwide poverty levels were around 33%, they reached 70% in parts of the Andean and Amazonian regions where the country's indigenous population is concentrated. In these same areas, rates of malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality were also much higher and access to healthcare more limited. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática (INEI) less than 50% of the rural population have access to some form of healthcare, compared to nearly 90% in urban areas.

In addition to poverty, Peru’s indigenous groups are also disadvantaged by lower levels of education. While the government in theory recognises the right to bilingual and intercultural education, in practice this is not usually provided. Because many indigenous communities tend to be located in remote, isolated and geographically hostile regions, the quality of material and human resources is deficient. School attendance is low, with UNICEF reporting only 32% of 3-5 year old indigenous children attend school, compared to 55% of non-indigenous children.

In the judicial system these groups face further discrimination. Despite provisions in the constitution, indigenous people taken into custody in Peru are frequently not provided with an interpreter. There are cases of indigenous people who have been tried and convicted without fully understanding what they are being charged with. Indigenous leaders opposing investment projects regarded by the government as strategically important also claim they continue to be unduly subject to criminal investigation by law enforcement agencies. The legal system remains difficult for people from poor backgrounds to access.