Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The law does not recognize spousal rape. The incidence of rape appeared to be infrequent, although there were no reliable statistics. Rape cases reported were investigated by the police and prosecuted under the penal code. According to the police, there were three cases of rape reported in 2011. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often reported higher figures than the police.
The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but it can be prosecuted under laws against physical assault. The Police Domestic Violence Unit has a “no drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault, and these cases proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. The no drop policy was introduced in 2009 because many women were reluctant to press charges against their spouses due to cultural constraints. During the year there were approximately 300 cases of domestic violence reported to the Police Domestic Violence Unit. Following reports of abuse, victims received counseling from the unit’s officers. Perpetrators were also provided counseling. The police worked with the National Center for Women and Children as well as the Women and Children Crisis Center to provide shelter for abused women. The Free Wesleyan Church operated a hotline for women in trouble, and the Salvation Army provided counseling and rehabilitation programs.
The Police Domestic Violence Unit, together with various NGOs, including the National Center for Women and Children, the Women and Children Crisis Center, and the Salvation Army, conducted public awareness and prevention campaigns against domestic violence. Statistics compiled by the Women and Children Crisis Center indicated that as of October, 241 persons received assistance from the center during the year, including 169 women, 10 men, and 62 children.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Sexual harassment of women sometimes occurred, based on complaints received by the Police Domestic Violence Unit.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Public hospitals and health centers and a regional NGO’s clinic provided free information about and access to contraception. Under a Ministry of Health policy, a woman is not permitted to undergo a tubal ligation at a public hospital without the consent of her husband or, in his absence, her male next of kin. Public hospitals and health centers provided free prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care.
Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights pass through the male heirs. Under the inheritance laws, the claim to a father’s estate by a male child born out of wedlock takes precedence over the claim of the deceased’s widow or daughter. If there are no male relatives, a widow is entitled to remain on her husband’s land as long as she does not remarry or engage in sexual intercourse. Both the inheritance laws and the land rights laws increased economic discrimination experienced by women in terms of their ability to access credit and own and operate businesses.
Women had lower labor force participation rates than their male counterparts (74.6 percent for men compared with 52.7 percent for women). Unemployment levels were higher for women, at 7.4 percent, compared with 3.6 percent for men. Average weekly earnings were higher for men--127 pa’anga ($68) compared with 112 pa’anga ($60) for women. Women who rose to positions of leadership often had links with the nobility. Some female commoners held senior leadership positions in business and government, including that of governor of the Reserve Bank.
The Office of Women within the Ministry of Education, Women, and Culture is responsible for facilitation of development projects for women. During the year the office assisted women’s groups in setting up work programs.
The National Center for Women and Children and the Women and Children Crisis Center focused on domestic abuse and improving the economic and social conditions of women. Other NGOs, including Ma’a Fafine Moe Famili (For Women and Families, Inc.) and the Tonga National Women’s Congress, promoted human rights, focusing on the rights of women and children. Several religiously affiliated women’s groups also advocated for women’s legal rights.