Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but not spousal rape. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape or incest) is 25 years’ imprisonment, the normal sentence was five to seven years, except in the case of murder. Police were not reluctant to arrest or prosecute offenders; whenever possible, female police officers handled rape cases. The Bureau of Gender Affairs of the Ministry of Social Services, Community Development, and Gender Affairs assisted victims of abuse by finding temporary shelter, providing counseling to both parties, or recommending police action.
Sexual violence and domestic violence cases were common, and the government recognized it as a problem. Authorities received reports of 16 rapes, 44 indecent assaults, 44 cases of unlawful sexual intercourse, and 75 cases of grievous bodily harm during the year. No information was available about prosecutions or convictions. The government held workshops and participated in public awareness and outreach programs, and updated its domestic violence legislation. Victims were sometimes reluctant to speak out due to due to fear of retribution, stigma, or further violence, which suggests that the problem may be significantly under-reported. Although no specific laws criminalize spousal abuse, spouses could bring charges against their partners for battery. However, victims were often reluctant to press charges due to their reliance on financial assistance of the abuser. Shelters were operated in private homes to preserve the privacy of the victims, but the location of a shelter was hard to keep secret. There was one government-supported shelter. The law allows abused persons to appear before a magistrate without an attorney and request a protective order. The court also may order the alleged perpetrator to be removed from the home to allow the victims, usually women and children, to remain in the home while the matter is investigated. However, inadequate police resources made enforcement of these restraining orders difficult. Police officers continued to receive training in dealing with domestic abuse cases.
The Bureau of Gender Affairs reported that both male and female victims sought assistance in dealing with domestic violence. Despite the range of programs offered, there were insufficient support systems to address the problem effectively. In addition to counseling services offered by the DNCW and the bureau, there was a legal aid clinic, and the government’s legal department offered assistance as well.
The DNCW provided preventive education about domestic violence and maintained a shelter where counseling and mediation services were available daily. Funding constraints limited stays at the shelter to several days at a time; however, if needed, additional housing was provided in private homes for up to three weeks. Because of the country’s small size, abusive spouses commonly found and visited the victims at the shelter, making private homes a safer option in many cases. The Catholic Church continued to be active in educating the public about domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it continued to be a serious problem.
Reproductive Rights: Women were free to choose the number, spacing, and timing of their children. While statistics on maternal mortality are not available, 94 percent of births occured with a skilled attendant. Access to contraception and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases was widely available.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men. However, property ownership continued to be deeded to heads of households, who were usually male. The inheritance law provides that intestate succession leaves the surviving spouse with only a life estate. However, the title registration act was amended to accommodate transfer of property between spouses, which boosted married women’s property ownership. The law establishes pay rates for civil service jobs without regard to gender. Although there were some women in managerial or high-level positions, most women worked as shopkeepers, nurses, or in education. The unemployment rate for women was 17.6 percent, compared to 11 percent for men.
The Bureau of Gender Affairs is charged with promoting and ensuring the legal rights of women. The bureau provides lobbying, research, support, counseling, training, and education services. The bureau worked with the DNCW and other organizations to help the government, nongovernmental organizations, and police sectors coordinate work on women’s issues, particularly in data collection and information sharing.