Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, with punishment set at three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is under the age of 18 or is seriously injured or killed. In rape cases tried in court, defendants generally were convicted, with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. Rape was reportedly rare, although it was likely underreported, as was most crime. The country does not have a central crime database, nor does it provide crime statistics.
Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and the detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.
In cooperation with NGOs, LWU centers and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a nationwide hotline for individuals to report incidents of domestic violence and receive counseling over the telephone, but no statistics on its operations were available. According to an international NGO that operated a shelter for homeless children, domestic violence was one of the main reasons that children left home to live on the streets of Vientiane, (see section 1.d.). Overall statistics were unavailable on the numbers of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished, but during the year LWU centers assisted 58 victims of rape, domestic violence, and trafficking.
Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is not illegal, “indecent sexual behavior” toward another person is illegal and punishable by six months to three years in prison. Sexual harassment was rarely reported, and its extent remained difficult to assess.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception was generally available, although the means of contraception were not widely available in rural areas and were often financially out of reach. The Lao Social Indicator Survey (released in October with data collected in 2011) estimated that the contraceptive prevalence rate for women of reproductive age (15-49 years) for all methods increased from 38 percent (in 2010) to 50 percent. The major factors influencing this continued low prevalence rate were a high, unmet need for skilled birth attendants and a lack of access by rural citizens to modern contraceptives. The survey report also estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined from 470 (in 2010) to 357 deaths per 100,000 live births. The major factors influencing this ratio were obstetrical complications, the prevalence of incomplete abortions, and a lack of access to emergency obstetric care. Deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth were the primary cause of death for women of reproductive age. Very few women had access to skilled birth attendants, and very few medical centers were equipped to deal with complicated births, especially in small, nomadic, and ethnic villages.
Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women, but traditional attitudes and gender-role stereotyping kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education and business opportunities. There was little government effort to redress the situation. The law also prohibits legal discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of culturally based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some hill tribes.
The LWU operated nationally to promote the position of women in society, including conducting several programs to strengthen the role of women that were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in the civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes were often higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities. While rural women were responsible for more than half of total agricultural production, the additional burdens of housework and child rearing also fell primarily on women.
The governmental Commission for the Advancement of Women’s second national strategy document, released February 19, outlined how to translate political commitments to honor international agreements into practical actions to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. As a step toward implementation, the government established commission subunits countrywide at all ministry, state organization, and administrative levels (province, district, and village) to enhance policymaking and performance monitoring.