Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. According to police the courts prosecuted two attempted rape cases, five indecent assault cases, and three sexual assault cases during the year.
The law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense. Prosecutions occur under the assault provisions of the penal code. The maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, five years’ imprisonment.
The police have a Domestic Violence Unit and a “no-drop” (evidence-based) prosecution policy in cases of violence against women and operated a 24-hour emergency line for victims of domestic violence. The law recognizes the existence of domestic violence and gives express powers for police involvement and intervention, including the power to enter private property. Police may also issue orders for a person who has committed an act of domestic violence to vacate property, whether or not that individual has rights in that property, if a person at risk of further violence occupies it. The Department of Gender Affairs held an introductory training of trainers on gender issues in July with male leaders in government and in the community. The government participated in a regional program providing training for police and revised a memorandum of understanding with the Tuvalu National Council of Women for handling domestic violence cases. The Women’s Crisis Center, operated by the Tuvalu National Council of Women, provided counseling services, but there were no shelters for abused women. As of August the police reported 100 domestic violence cases. Cases of rape and domestic violence went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, and there were no reports of such practices.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, which includes lewd touching. Sexual harassment was not widely reported, nor were there known cases reported during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and couples have the means and information to do so and to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The NGO Tuvalu Family Health Association provided information and education about, and access to, contraception. Government hospitals offered family planning services and provided free prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care. Trained health personnel attended many births.
Discrimination: There remain areas in which the law contributes to an unequal status for women, such as land inheritance and child custody rights. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination based on gender or requiring equal pay for equal work. Women held a subordinate societal position, constrained in some instances both by law and traditional customary practices. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors, headed a number of NGOs, and were more active politically. In the wage economy, men held most higher-paying positions, while women held the majority of lower-paying clerical and retail positions. Additionally, few women could access credit to start businesses.
There is a Department of Gender Affairs within the Prime Minister’s Office.