Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The law recognizes spousal rape. Police investigated reported rape cases, and the government prosecuted these cases under the law. As of October the Women and Children Crisis Center reported four rape cases.
The law makes domestic violence a crime punishable by up to 12 months in prison, a fine of 2,000 pa’anga ($940), or both. Repeat offenders face up to three years in prison or a maximum fine of 10,000 pa’anga ($4,700). The law provides for protection from domestic violence, including protection orders; clarifies the duties of police; and promotes the health, safety, and well-being of domestic violence victims.
The police domestic violence unit has a “no-drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault--once filed, domestic violence cases cannot be dropped and proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. Following reports of abuse, the unit’s officers counsel victims. Male officers also counsel perpetrators. Police work with the National Center for Women and Children as well as with the Women and Children Crisis Center to provide shelter for abused women, and girls and boys under age 14. Both centers operated a safe house for victims. As of June the Women and Children Crisis Center reported 505 domestic violence cases. The Free Wesleyan Church operated a hotline for women in trouble, and the Salvation Army provided counseling and rehabilitation programs.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime under the law, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Sexual harassment within a domestic relationship is an offense. Complaints received by the police domestic violence unit indicated that sexual harassment of women sometimes occurred.
Reproductive Rights: In general couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Public hospitals, health centers, and several local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided free information about and access to contraception; however, under a Ministry of Health policy, a woman does not have permission 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. Many pregnant women reportedly did not seek these services, which are also less available in the outer islands, contributing to a maternal mortality rate of 120 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to data published by the World Health Organization, skilled health personnel attend 99 percent of births, excluding the outer islands.
Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights pass through the male heirs only. 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. The inheritance and land rights laws also reduced women’s ability to access credit and to own and operate businesses.
Discrimination with respect to employment and wages occurred with respect to women (see Section 7.d.). Women who rose to positions of leadership often had links with the nobility. Some female commoners held senior leadership positions in businesses and government.