Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The law recognizes spousal rape. The incidence of rape appeared to be infrequent, although there were no reliable statistics. Police investigate reported rape cases, which are then prosecuted under the law. As of July police reported one rape case. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often report a higher incidence of rape than police report. As of July the Women and Children Crisis Center reported five rape cases. The Family Law passed by parliament in September, assented to by the king in November, and scheduled to come into force in mid-2014, will provide greater protection from domestic violence, clarify the roles of the police, and introduce protection orders.
The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but it can be prosecuted under laws against physical assault. The police domestic violence unit has a “no-drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault, and these cases proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. The unit reported 153 cases during the year. Following reports of abuse, the unit’s officers counseled victims. A male officer also counseled perpetrators. Police worked with the National Center for Women and Children as well as the Women and Children Crisis Center to provide shelter for abused women, and girls and boys under age 14. Both centers had a safe house for victims. The Free Wesleyan Church operated a hotline for women in trouble, and the Salvation Army provided counseling and rehabilitation programs.
The police domestic violence unit, together with various NGOs, including the National Center for Women and Children, the Women and Children Crisis Center, and the Salvation Army, conducted public awareness and prevention campaigns against domestic violence. As of July statistics compiled by the Women and Children Crisis Center indicated that 248 persons, including 148 women, 21 men, and 79 children, received assistance from the center during the year.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime under the law, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Complaints received by the police domestic violence unit indicated that sexual harassment of women sometimes occurred. As of July there was one report of sexual harassment from the Women and Children Crisis Center.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Public hospitals, health centers, and several local and international NGOs provided free information about and access to contraception. Under a Ministry of Health policy, a woman is not permitted to undergo a tubal ligation at a public hospital without the consent of her husband or, in his absence, her male next of kin. Spousal consent is not required for men to undergo a vasectomy. Public hospitals and health centers provide free prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care, although many pregnant women reportedly do not seek these services and availability of these services is reduced in the outer islands. A high maternal mortality rate of 110 per 100,000 births is anecdotally attributed to this trend. According to data published by the World Health Organization, skilled health personnel attend 99 percent of births.
Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights only pass through the male heirs. Under the inheritance laws, the claim to a father’s estate by a male child born out of wedlock takes precedence over the claim of the deceased’s widow or daughter. If there are no male relatives, a widow is entitled to remain on her husband’s land as long as she does not remarry and remains celibate. Both the inheritance laws and the land rights laws increased economic discrimination that women experienced in terms of their ability to access credit and own and operate businesses.
Women participated in the work force at a lower rate than that of their male counterparts (63 percent for men compared with 42 percent for women). As of 2003 (latest available data) average weekly earnings were higher for men: 127 pa’anga ($74) compared with 112 pa’anga ($65) for women. Women who rose to positions of leadership often had links with the nobility. Some female commoners held senior leadership positions in business and government, including the minister of education.
The office of women within the Ministry of Education, Women, and Culture is responsible for facilitating development projects for women and assisted women’s groups in setting up work programs.
The National Center for Women and Children and the Women and Children Crisis Center focused on domestic abuse and improving the economic and social conditions of women. Other NGOs, including Ma’a Fafine Moe Famili (For Women and Families, Inc.) and the Tonga National Women’s Congress, promoted human rights, focusing on the rights of women and children. Several religiously affiliated women’s groups also advocated for women’s legal rights.