Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, with punishment set at three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is under age 18 or is seriously injured or killed. In rape cases tried in court, defendants generally were convicted with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. Rape was reportedly rare, although it was likely underreported, as was most crime. The country does not have a central crime database, nor does it provide crime statistics.
Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and the detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.
LWU centers and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. On November 25, the Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane, operated by the LWU, launched a new nationwide hotline for individuals to report incidents of domestic violence and receive counseling over the telephone. An international NGO operating a shelter for homeless children noted that domestic violence was one of the main reasons why children leave homes to live on the streets of Vientiane. Overall statistics were unavailable on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished, but the LWU estimated that the centers have assisted approximately 500 domestic violence victims since October 2010.
Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is not illegal, “indecent sexual behavior” toward another person is illegal and punishable by six months to three years in prison. Sexual harassment rarely was reported, with its extent difficult to assess.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception was generally available, although the means of contraception were not widely available in rural areas and were often financially out of reach. A 2011 UN Population Fund report estimated the contraceptive prevalence rate for women of reproductive age (15-49 years) in 2010 for all methods to be 38 percent and the maternal mortality ratio in 2008 to be 580 deaths per 100,000 live births. Deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth were the primary cause of death for women of reproductive age. Very few women had access to skilled birth attendants and very few medical centers were equipped to deal with complicated births, especially in small, nomadic, and ethnic villages. According to the UN Development Program, the major factors influencing maternal mortality in the country were the low contraceptive prevalence rate, the high unmet need for family planning among women of reproductive age (27 percent), the low percentage of deliveries assisted by trained health practitioners (23 percent), and the lack of access to emergency obstetric care. Antenatal care remained poor. Women and men had equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women, but traditional attitudes and gender-role stereotyping kept women and girls in subordinate positions, preventing them from equally accessing education and business opportunities, and there was little government effort to redress this. The law also prohibits legal discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of culturally based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some hill tribes.
The LWU operated nationally to promote the position of women in society, including conducting several programs to strengthen the role of women that were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in the civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes were often higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities. While rural women carried out more than half of total agricultural production in every field, the additional workloads of housework and child rearing also fell primarily on women.