Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and provides for penalties of three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is younger than 18 years or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. Reports of rape were rare, although observers believed 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.
The LWU and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a countrywide hotline for persons to report incidents of domestic violence and receive telephonic counseling. 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.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and punishable by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its frequency remained difficult to assess.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception was generally available, although contraceptive commodities were not widely available in rural areas and were often too expensive. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that 47 percent of women between 15 and 49 years used a modern method of contraceptives and that 17 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning.
The country decreased the number of maternal deaths since 1990 by 78 percent. Nevertheless, according to 2015 UN estimates, the maternal mortality rate remained high at 197 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 150. Pregnancy and childbirth remained the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age due to a lack of access to antenatal and obstetric care as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy. According to UNFPA estimates, skilled health personnel attended just 42 percent of births, and very few medical centers were equipped to deal with obstetric emergencies, especially in small, nomadic, and ethnic villages. The adolescent birth rate remained high at 94 births per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years, and UNFPA reported that access to sexual and reproductive health services and information was limited, especially for unmarried young people.
Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women as for men, 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 cultural-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 (see section 7.d.).
The LWU operated countrywide 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 frequently were 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.