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 age 18 or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. Rape reportedly was rare, although underreporting was likely. The country does not have a central crime database, nor does it release 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, the LWU 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. From December 2012 to September 2013, the center counseled 1,441 women and girls and 749 men and boys. According to an international NGO operating a shelter for homeless children, domestic violence was a key reason children left home to live on the streets of Vientiane. Overall statistics were unavailable on the numbers of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished, but from December 2012 to September 2013, LWU centers assisted 27 female and 15 male victims of rape, domestic violence, or trafficking.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No laws prohibit FGM/C, and the practice did not occur.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and is punishable by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its extent remained difficult to assess.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; the information and means to do so; and the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on contraception was generally available, although contraceptive commodities were not widely available in rural areas and were often financially out of reach. A government survey published in 2012 estimated the contraceptive prevalence rate from January to June at 30 percent, down from an estimated 50 percent in 2011. 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 the maternal mortality ratio declined from 470 (in 2010) to 357 deaths per 100,000 live births during the year. Key factors influencing this ratio included obstetrical complications and a lack of access to emergency obstetric care. Deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth were the primary causes 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 in some areas and at lower socioeconomic levels, traditional attitudes and gender-role stereotyping kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of culturally based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas. The law requires equal pay for equal work.
The LWU operated nationally to promote the position of women in society, including conducting programs to strengthen the role of women. The programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes were frequently 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.
Provincial, district, and village subunits of the government’s Commission for the Advancement of Women have a mandate to develop actions to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.