Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law when incidents were reported to officials. The law establishes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. However, most observers believed that few sexual offenses were prosecuted, since cultural constraints discouraged victims from reporting such crimes to the police. The courts have promulgated rules designed to protect women filing rape charges during court testimony.
New legislation passed in September specifically prohibits domestic violence. Previously, the law established criminal penalties for assault and battery, and domestic abuse was sometimes included in these categories. Spousal abuse was common; most assaults occurred while the assailant was under the influence of alcohol.
According to a government survey published in the Marshall Islands Journal in 2009, more than 70 percent of female spouses had been abused during an unspecified time period. Violence against women outside the family also occurred, and women in urban centers risked assault if they went out alone after dark.
Police generally responded to reports of rape and domestic assault, and the government’s health office provided counseling in reported spousal and child abuse cases.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law, and there is no reliable data regarding the incidence of harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children and the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception, and to prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care were available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls; however, on remote atolls, only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available. The Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. According to indicators published in 2011 by the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 45 percent of married women ages 15-49 used some form of contraception.
Maternal mortality was approximately 0.15 to 0.3 percent (four reported maternal deaths in 2009 and two in 2010, with approximately 1,340 births per year in the country), although maternal deaths in the outer islands may have been underreported. A large number of premature babies were born to young teenage mothers, with a resulting high number of babies born with physical and mental deficiencies.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoy the same rights as men under family law and in the judicial system. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying important positions in the traditional system, although control of property often was delegated to male family members on behalf of female landowners. Tribal chiefs are the traditional authorities in the country; customarily, a chief is the husband or eldest son of the female landowner. The traditional authority exercised by women has declined with growing urbanization and movement of the population away from traditional lands. While female workers were prevalent in the public and private sectors, many were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. Men and women had pay equity for all government positions involving similar work.
Women’s groups under the NGO Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) continued to publicize women’s issues and promote greater awareness of women’s rights. Following the killing of a college teacher by her husband in August 2010, WUTMI worked with the government to strengthen legal penalties for domestic violence offenses. Police charged the murder victim’s husband in her death, and he was sentenced in August to 20 years in prison. An off-duty police officer was outside the teacher’s house when the killing occurred and reported to his on-duty colleagues that he heard screams, and when the fighting subsided he called the police to report that the fight was over. Following this incident local NGOs provided additional training for police on how to respond properly to reports of domestic violence.