Rape and Domestic Violence: Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Alcohol abuse frequently was a factor in attacks on women. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, but sentences typically were much shorter.
The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. The law provides for penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment for common assault and up to five years’ imprisonment for assault involving bodily harm. While cultural taboos on reporting such crimes and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation over prosecution still exist, prosecutions for rape and domestic assault made up the majority of cases processed by the public prosecutor’s office during the year.
Following the 2009 publication of a study on the prevalence of domestic violence in the country, the government took additional steps to address violence against women. In 2009 Parliament passed a motion to support legal reform to eliminate domestic violence, and in 2011 the cabinet endorsed a policy and national action plan (2010-20) for the elimination of gender-based violence. The police force has a Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses Unit, and unit officers participated in a capacity-building program, funded by a foreign government, that provided training in handling such cases. The police also ran a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. The Catholic Church operated a shelter for women and children in Tarawa.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment. Information presented in workshops conducted in 2010 in connection with efforts to develop a national policy on gender equality indicated that sexual harassment was more widespread than previously regarded.
Sex Tourism: The law does not specifically prohibit sex tourism. Obscene or indecent behavior is banned. There were reports of foreign fishermen engaging in commercial sexual acts with minors (see section 6, Children).
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Access to contraception, as well as prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care, was available from public health hospitals and centers. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 90 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, and maternal mortality was estimated to be 158 deaths per 100,000 live births based on data from the 2005 census. According to indicators published by the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 36 percent of married women ages 15-49 used some form of contraception, and an estimated 31 percent used modern contraceptive methods.
Discrimination: The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, and the traditional culture, in which men are dominant, impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Women filled many government office and teaching positions. According to the most recent census in 2005, 56 percent of professionals were women (primarily teachers and nurses). Statistics generally were not well collected in the country, and data on the participation of women in the work force and on comparative wages were unavailable. Women have rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education. However, land inheritance laws are patrilineal, and sons are entitled to more land than daughters.
The Citizenship Act contains some discriminatory provisions. For example, the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires citizenship automatically through the marriage; however, the foreign husband of a female citizen does not.