Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for the failure to report many incidents of abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussion of such matters.
The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. Spousal rape is not a crime. As part of the police curriculum, officers received specialized training on how to work with rape victims. The police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to combat the problem.
The law does not specifically address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault. Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common, and police confirmed that domestic violence complaints were received every week.
In the cases of domestic abuse that were reported, victims often dropped charges before the court appearance, or the case was settled out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time lapse between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted awareness campaigns on family violence during the year. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women. The Family Support Center did not have an in-house lawyer and depended heavily on the Public Solicitor’s Office for legal assistance for its clients.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraception and adequate prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care were accessible at all government hospitals and rural health clinics, and all nurses were trained to provide family planning services. According to indicators published by the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 35 percent of married women ages 15-49 used some form of contraception and an estimated 27 percent used modern contraceptive methods. The UN Population Fund estimates one hundred maternal deaths per one hundred thousand live births. An estimated 86 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Women and men had equal access to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Discrimination: The law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property. However, most women were limited to customary family roles, which prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. A shortage of jobs also inhibited the entry of women into the workforce. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs.
The Solomon Islands National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights, including voting rights, through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The Women’s Development Division within the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Children’s Affairs also addressed women’s issues.