Rape and Domestic Violence: Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Alcohol abuse frequently was a factor in attacks on women. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, but sentences typically were much shorter.
The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but general common law and criminal law make assault in all forms illegal. The law provides for penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment for common assault and up to five years’ imprisonment for assault involving bodily harm.
While cultural taboos on reporting such crimes and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation over prosecution still exist, prosecutions for rape and domestic assault occurred during the year. As of September the Prosecutor’s Office had 12 rape cases, 10 indecent assault cases, and six other cases involving violence against women pending in court for trial, sentencing, or pretrial administrative processing.
The government launched its national action plan for the elimination of gender-based violence in 2011, recognizing the high prevalence of violence against women. During the year the government, in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team, facilitated training for community leaders to effectively carry out consultations on proposed legislation to combat and respond to domestic violence. The police force has a Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses Unit, and unit officers participated in a capacity-building program, funded by a foreign government, that provided training in handling such cases. The police also ran a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. During the first six months of the year, the police registered 76 cases of domestic violence and 18 cases of sexual offenses (including rape and indecent assault). The Catholic Church operated a shelter for women and children in Tarawa.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment. Information presented in workshops conducted in 2010 in connection with efforts to develop a national policy on gender equality indicated that sexual harassment was more widespread than previously thought.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Access to contraception, as well as prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care, was available from public health hospitals and centers. The NGO Kiribati Family Health Association also provided information and counseling on family planning and offered reproductive health care services. According to UN Children’s Fund indicators, an estimated 22 percent of married women ages 15 to 49 used some form of contraception, and skilled personnel (doctors, nurses, or midwives) attended 80 percent of births.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in employment but not in other areas. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The traditional culture, in which men are dominant, in some cases impeded a more active role for women in the economy. Women filled many government office and teaching positions. According to the 2010 census, 43 percent of the labor force were women (primarily teachers and nurses). Women have rights of ownership and inheritance of property as well as full and equal access to education. Land inheritance laws are patrilineal, however, and sons are entitled to more land than daughters.
The citizenship law contains some discriminatory provisions. For example, the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires citizenship automatically through the marriage, but the foreign husband of a female citizen does not.