Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates imprisonment of up to 30 years and caning with no fewer than 12 strokes for rape. The law does not criminalize spousal rape; it explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape, as long as she is not under age 13. The legal age of marriage is 14 unless otherwise regulated by religion or custom under law. The Islamic Family Order set the minimum marriageable age at 16 for Muslim women and 18 for Muslim men. Ethnic Chinese must be age 15 or older to marry according to the Chinese Marriage Act, which also stipulates that sexual intercourse with an ethnic Chinese woman under 15 is considered rape even if it is with her spouse. Protections against sexual assault by a spouse are provided under the amended Islamic Family Law Order 2010 and Married Women Act Order 2010, and the penalty for breaching a protection order is a fine not exceeding BN$2,000 ($1,600) or imprisonment not exceeding six months. As of November, 21 rape cases had been reported; 17 of these were under investigation, three prosecuted and one convicted. In December a man pleaded not guilty in High Court on two charges of raping his daughter. While awaiting trial the court released the man on BN$20,000 ($16,129) bail, ordered him to report to the investigating officer once a week, and not contact any of the prosecution’s witnesses. At year’s end the trial was pending.
There is no specific domestic violence law, but arrests were made in domestic violence cases under the Women and Girls Protection Act. The police investigate domestic violence only in response to a report by a victim. The police were generally responsive in the investigation of such cases. During the year there were 77 cases of domestic abuse reported; at year’s end 68 cases were under investigation, three prosecuted, and six convicted. The criminal penalty for a minor domestic assault is one to two weeks in jail and a fine. An assault resulting in serious injury is punishable by caning and a longer prison sentence.
A special unit staffed by female officers existed within the police department to investigate domestic abuse and child abuse complaints. A hotline was available for persons to report domestic violence. The Department of Community Development in the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided counseling for women and their spouses. Based on individual circumstances, some female and minor victims were placed in protective custody at a government-sponsored shelter while waiting for their cases to be brought to court.
Islamic courts staffed by male and female officials offered counseling to married couples in domestic violence cases. Officials did not encourage wives to reconcile with flagrantly abusive spouses, and Islamic courts recognized assault as grounds for divorce.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates that whoever assaults or uses criminal force, intending thereby to outrage or knowing it is likely to outrage the modesty of a person, shall be punished with imprisonment for as many as five years and caning. The government reported 13 cases of sexual harassment, of which six were under investigation at year’s end, four prosecuted, and three convicted.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and have access to modern contraceptive devices and methods through the government and private clinics. Citizens enjoy free medical and health care, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. Women had equal access to diagnostic and treatment facilities for sexually transmitted diseases.
Discrimination: In accordance with the government’s interpretation of the Quran’s precepts, Muslim women have rights similar to those of Muslim men in areas such as divorce and child custody. Islamic law requires that males receive twice the inheritance of women. Civil law permits female citizens to own property and other assets, including business properties. Male spouses of female citizens could not apply for permanent resident status until they had resided in the country for at least 20 years immediately preceding their application. Female spouses of male citizens on the other hand could apply for permanent resident status after only two years of marriage. Female citizens may pass their nationality to their children, but only through an application process.
Women with permanent positions in the government could apply for travel allowances for their children; however, they could not do so for their husbands working in the private sector. With this exception, they received the same allowance privileges as their male counterparts. According to government statistics, women made up 57 percent of the civil service force and held 28 percent of senior management posts. Women were not discriminated against in access to employment and business. Some professions such as meteorology are designated as women’s professions, and men noted discrimination during hiring.
In September an internationally known Islamic scholar, Dr Zakir Naik, spoke in the country. His visit sparked a great deal of public discussion as he contended that although men and women are equal in the eyes of Islam, it was “not appropriate” for women to be government leaders. Local discussion focused on his argument that a woman’s modesty could not be protected if she had to conduct a meeting alone with male colleagues, so Muslim women should not be in mixed company or speak in front of a group of men. The English-language newspaper Brunei Times in a September 28 article asserted that “it is not permissible for a woman to assume positions of senior public authority.”
In practice the country continued to have women in positions of senior leadership up to the minister-level. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as in other government agencies, women constituted the majority of the workforce. In the private sector as well, women held senior positions at major companies in most sectors.