Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. There were both arrests and trials for rape-related offenses during the year.
The law does not specifically address domestic violence. Acts of domestic violence were prosecuted under the assault provisions of the penal code. The maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, five years’ imprisonment.
A 2007 demographic and health survey conducted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community reported that approximately 47 percent of the women surveyed had experienced some type of violence in their lifetime. Nine percent experienced sexual violence, 25 percent experienced other physical violence, and a further 12 percent were victims of both sexual and other physical violence. Many cases of rape and domestic violence went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims. Human rights observers criticized the police for seeking to address violence against women using traditional and customary methods of reconciliation rather than criminal prosecution. The Women’s Crisis Center, operated by the Tuvalu National Council of Women, provided counseling services, but there were no shelters or hotlines for abused women. The police have a Domestic Violence Unit. The government also participated in a regional program providing training for police in handling domestic violence cases.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, which includes lewd touching. Sexual harassment was not widely reported. There were no known reported cases during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and have the means and information to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The nongovernmental Tuvalu Family Health Association provided information and education about, and access to, contraception. Government hospitals also offered family planning services and provided free prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care. Virtually all births were attended by skilled health personnel.
Discrimination: There remained areas in which the law contributes to an unequal status for women, such as land inheritance rights and child custody rights. In practice women held a subordinate societal position, constrained both by law in some instances and traditional customary practices. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors, headed a number of NGOs, and were more active politically. In the wage economy, men held most higher-paying positions, while women held the majority of lower-paying clerical and retail positions. Additionally, as women tended not to own capital, few women were able to access credit to start businesses.
There is a Department of Women within the Office of the Prime Minister.