Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but there is no legal provision against spousal rape. The penalties for rape range from two years’ to life imprisonment, but a life sentence has never been imposed. Many cases of rape went unreported because common societal attitudes discouraged such reporting. In recent years, however, authorities noted a rise in the number of reported cases of rape. This appeared to be a result of efforts by government ministries and local NGOs to increase awareness of the problem and the need to report rape cases to police. Rape cases that reached the courts were treated seriously, and the conviction rate was generally high.
The constitution prohibits abuse of women, but common societal attitudes tolerated their physical abuse within the home. Such abuse was common and typically went unreported due to social pressure and fear of reprisal. Village fono typically punished domestic violence offenders, but only if the abuse was considered extreme (that is, visible signs of physical abuse). Village religious leaders also were permitted to intervene in domestic disputes. When police received complaints from abused women, the government investigated and punished the offender, including by imprisonment. Domestic violence is charged as common criminal assault, with penalties ranging from several months to one year in prison. The government did not keep statistics specifically on domestic abuse but acknowledged the problem as one of considerable concern. The Ministry of Police has a nine-person Domestic Violence Unit, which worked in collaboration with NGOs that combated domestic abuse. NGO services for abused women included public antiviolence awareness programs, confidential hotlines, in-person counseling and other support, and shelters.
Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, and there were no reliable statistics concerning its extent. It likely was underreported, due to the lack of sexual harassment legislation and a cultural constraint against publicly shaming or accusing someone, even if justifiable. There was little incentive for victims to report instances of sexual harassment, as they could jeopardize their career or family name by going forward with such complaints.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination. The National Health Service, private hospitals, the Ministry of Health’s public awareness programs, general practitioners, and various health care centers provided information and access to contraception and access to maternal health services, which included skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care.
Discrimination: Women have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditionally subordinate role of women was changing, albeit slowly, particularly within the more conservative segments of society. The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development oversees and helps secure the rights of women. To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy and training programs for those who did not complete high school.
A labor law provision prohibits employment of women between midnight and 6 a.m. unless the commissioner of labor grants special permission. This regulation was generally observed.