University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.46, Doc. 23 rev. 1 (1978).





In its obligation to watch over the rights set forth in the Inter-American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the Commission must watch over not only the so/called civil and political rights, but also the right to protection for mothers and children (Article VII); the right to the preservation of health and to well-being (Article XI); the right to education (Article XII); the right to the benefits culture (Article XIII); the tight to work and to fair remuneration (Article XIV) and the right to social security (Article XVI), that is to say, economic, social, and cultural rights. [1]/

The Commission has considered it advisable to include in this report a chapter outlining some socioeconomic indicators on El Salvador, for the purpose of presenting a more complete picture of the general situation of the country. With this background information it may be possible to point out some factors that might have an effect on respect for an observance of human rights in El Salvador. [2]/

With a territory of approximately 21,000 km2 , El Salvador is the smallest mainland country in our hemisphere. With a population estimated at 4,500,000 and a population density of 210 people for km2 of arable land, El Salvador is the second ranking country in the Americas in population density, and one of the most densely populated in the world. This situation is tending to get worse, since it has one of the highest rates of population growth, 3.5 percent per year.

It is estimated that 46 percent of the people of El Salvador are less than 15 years of age, that is, 2,070,000 persons, and 19 percent, or 855,000 of them, are less than y years of age. Of these last, approximately 3 out every 5 such children are effected by some degree of malnutrition. Deaths during the first year of life account for 25 percent of total deaths, and deaths of children under 5 years of age account for 50 percent of that total.

The life expectancy of a Salvadoran at birth is 58 years. There are y physicians, 3 nurses, and 17 hospital beds for every 10,000 inhabitants.

The Overall percentage of literacy is 57 percent, but in the rural areas it is only 30 percent. Moreover, the percentage of children (5 through 14 years of age) enrolled in elementary school is 81 percent, and in secondary and vocational education (15 though 19 years of age), it is 31 percent. The percentage of university enrollment in the group 20 through 20 years of age is 3 percent.

It is estimated that 60 percent of the Salvadoran population, that is, about 2,700,000 persons, are in rural areas. Of the rural people, 73 percent lack drinking water service, 93 percent lack electricity, and only 22 percent have privies.

In the urban population, for its part, 60 percent lacks connection with a sewerage system and only 30 percent have drinking water services.

The low percentage of the population with drinking water service and connection to a sewerage system is reflected in the high rates of infectious and parasitic diseases, which result in gastrointestinal diseases being the principal cause of death in children under 5 years of age.

As regards work, the agricultural and fisheries sector employs approximately 55 percent of the Salvadoran labor force; the manufacturing sector 12 percent; commerce 8 percent; constructions 4 percent; and other sectors 20 percent. However, 10 percent of the economically active population is unemployed and 22 percent is under-employed.

Various estimates have been made of the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP); however, the amount of US$425.00 appears to be a reasonable average figure. Moreover, in one sector (agriculture), which generates 23 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of El Salvador and employs more than half of the labor force, the per capita annual income of the farm people is estimated at $133.00

With regard to the distribution of income by families, the highest 5 percent of families received 38 percent of the income, and the highest 20 percent received 67 percent of the total, while the lowest 40 percent of families received only 7.5 percent of the income.

With regard to land tenure, according to a 1961 estimate, six families owned 71,923 hectares. In contrast, according to the 1971 census, approximately 305,000 families lived on 42,692 hectares. More than one third of this last group of families did not own the lands they worked on.

According to other figures, the top 10 percent of landowners in El Salvador hold 78 percent of the arable land, and the lowest 10 percent, barely 0.4 percent.

According to another estimate, the top 0.55 percent of the landowners occupies 37.7 percent of the land, and 91.4 percent has 21.9 percent of land. In addition, the number of landless families, according to a recent study, has been increasing, from 30,451 in 1961 to 112,108 in 1971 and 166,922 in 1975.

According to the 1971 rural census, more than 90 percent of the rural properties in El Salvador are of less than 10 hectares and together these occupy about one-fourth of the total arable land. These lands are the less productive ones, since the most fertile lands are on the large farms. The latter, in turn, are farms primarily oriented toward exportation of such products as coffee, sugar, cotton, and meat. These products require a large number of workers. Since most of the farm workers own no land, or their plots of land are not very productive and do not met the needs of the families, there is a large work force available to work the large farms.

The excess supply of manpower in the field and the low productivity of the small rural properties contribute to the low income of the farm workers.

Moreover, the uneven distribution of the land and the emphasis on exportation of agricultural products are factors influencing the poverty in which a large part of the population lives.

The preceding data show more clearly the economic and social imbalance that seriously effects the Salvadoran society, and, in particular, the immense majority of the population, with consequent negative repercussions in the filed of observance of human rights.



[1] American Convention on Human Rights

Article 26 – Progressive Development

The States Parties undertake to adopt measures, both internally and through international cooperation, especially those of an economic and technical nature, with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires.

[2] The data in this chapter are approximate figures, and the sources are mainly official publications of the Organization of American State, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization.


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