Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women, including gang rape and domestic violence, was a serious and prevalent problem. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by imprisonment ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment, and prison sentences were imposed on convicted assailants, but few rapists were apprehended. The willingness of some communities to settle incidents of rape through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution made the crime difficult to combat. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation in lieu of trials for rapists.
Domestic violence is criminalized yet existed at high levels throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. There is no specific domestic violence provision in the Criminal Code. Two possible charges could be imposed in such cases: common assault, which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, or aggravated assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment. Since most communities viewed domestic violence as a private matter, few victims pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare. Widespread sexual violence committed by police officials and unresponsiveness of these officials to complaints of sexual or domestic violence deterred reporting by both women and men. Traditional village mores, which often served as deterrents against violence, were weak and largely absent when youths moved from their villages to larger towns or to the capital. According to Amnesty International (AI), approximately two-thirds of women in the country have been struck by their partners, with the number approaching 100 percent in parts of the Highlands. AI reported that there were only three shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, all privately run; the situation was worse outside the capital. Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged an increasing number of women with murdering one of their husband’s other wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison had been convicted for attacking or killing another woman.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was not illegal, and it was a widespread problem.
Reproductive Rights: Under the country’s family planning policy, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from violence and coercion. However, in practice the decision of the husband or male partner on such matters usually prevailed over the wishes of the woman. Although women did not face barriers stemming from the law or government policy to accessing contraception and adequate prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care, access in practice was hindered by logistical problems faced by the Health Department in distributing supplies. Medical facilities also were limited in their capacity to provide adequate services to the growing population. According to indicators published by the Population Research Bureau, 26 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used some form of contraception. The country’s estimated maternal mortality ratio exceeded 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. This was due in part to traditional practices that encourage at-home births without skilled birth attendants, poor pre-natal care, and the unavailability of professional health care in isolated rural communities.
Discrimination: Although laws have provisions for extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, women did not have the same legal status and rights as men, and gender discrimination existed at all levels. Although some women achieved senior positions in business, the professions, and the civil service, traditional discrimination against women persisted. Many women, even in urban areas, were considered second-class citizens. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all spheres of life: social, cultural, economic, and political. There was no employment antidiscrimination law.
Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the sentence is imposed, and circuit-riding National Court justices frequently annulled such village-court sentences. Polygyny and the custom in many tribal cultures of paying a “bride price” tended to reinforce the view that women were property. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans, although the courts have ruled that such settlements denied the women their constitutional rights.
In March the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, visited the country and reported that violence against women was a “pervasive phenomenon” and cultural practices like bride price and polygamy exacerbated the problem. She found women lacked access to the justice systems as police and prosecutors did not have the resources or skills to deal with the issue. The Ministry of Religion, Youth, and Community Development is responsible for women’s issues and has considerable influence over the government’s policy toward women.