Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. Although rape is a crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common, as were long delays. Authorities reported that the backlog of court cases led some communities to address rape accusations through traditional law, which does not always provide justice to victims. The definition of rape under the penal code appears broad enough to make spousal rape a crime, although that definition had not been tested in the courts.
In 2010 parliament enacted the Law against Domestic Violence to provide protection and defense to vulnerable groups, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, against all forms of violence, exploitation, discrimination, abandonment, oppression, sexual abuse, and mistreatment. While many cultural and institutional obstacles hinder implementation of the law, local NGOs viewed the law as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their situations to the police. Several NGOs that monitor the courts’ treatment of such cases and those which provide services to victims in such cases were highly critical of how such cases were handled. Prosecutors routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults. Police conducted only the most perfunctory of investigations. Often the victim had to leave her home during investigation and prosecution of the case. Investigation and prosecution can result in delays of up to two years from the initial report until disposition. Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. Finally, even after a case is successfully prosecuted, judges almost universally issued suspended sentences involving no jail time, even in cases involving significant injury to the victim. At year’s end a local NGO that tracks domestic violence reported 178 cases of domestic abuse; of these, 79 cases were referred to the prosecutor general for investigation and prosecution, 55 cases were tried, and 38 remained under investigation by the PNTL.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem, often exacerbated by the reluctance of authorities to respond aggressively. The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes. Women’s organizations assessed VPU performance as variable. Some officials actively pursued cases, while others preferred to handle them through mediation or as private family matters. Lack of support and resources severely constrained VPU operations. Police at times came under pressure from community members to ignore cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The PNTL disciplinary code allows the PNTL to impose disciplinary sanctions on police who commit domestic violence in their own homes, but the PNTL rarely enforced this provision. The government and civil society actively promoted awareness campaigns to combat violence against women, including rape.
Sexual Harassment: A labor law that took effect in 2012 prohibits sexual harassment in the work place, but such harassment reportedly was widespread.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Economic and religious considerations limited women’s access to family planning information and education. Contraceptive use was low, although the Ministry of Health and NGOs promoted both natural and modern family planning methods, including the distribution of intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms. Adult women continued to suffer from higher mortality than men. The latest Demographic and Health Survey in 2010 reported that pregnancy and pregnancy-related causes accounted for 42 percent of deaths for women between the ages of 15 and 49. According to 2011 WHO estimates, the average maternal mortality rate in the country was 300 deaths per 100,000 live births. A skilled health professional attended 59 percent of urban births (those occurring in Dili) but only 21 percent of rural births. Sixty-one percent of mothers received antenatal care from a medical professional, and 32 percent of mothers received postpartum care. The Demographic and Health Survey in 2010 reported that malnutrition and lack of access to health services were among the major factors influencing the maternal mortality ratio.
Discrimination: Some customary practices discriminate against women. For example, in some regions or villages where traditional practices hold sway, women may not inherit or own property. Traditional cultural practices such as payment of a bride price also occurred. Women also were disadvantaged in pursuing job opportunities at the village level.
The constitution provides for equal rights to own property, but traditional inheritance systems tended to exclude women from land ownership. In 2012 parliament passed a national land law, which included more specific rights for women’s ownership of land, but the legislation was vetoed by the former president for unrelated reasons.
The Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality in the Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. Women’s NGOs worked under an umbrella organization called Rede Feto (Women’s Network), which coordinated the work of NGOs working on women’s issues and provided input to draft legislation on women’s issues, such as the 2010 Law on Domestic Violence. The Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality and the advisor to the Prime Minister for civil society coordinated and supported the work of Rede Feto.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity and women’s organizations offered some assistance to female victims of violence, including shelters for victims of domestic violence and incest, a safe room at the national hospital for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and escorts to judicial proceedings.