Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. Police, however, were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.
The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of 100,000 vatu ($928), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence. Police have a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which they do not drop reported domestic violence cases.
There were no nationwide government information programs designed to address domestic violence. Although media attention to domestic violence and abuse was generally limited, the murders of two women by their partners in Port Vila received significant attention. In June Alice Karis died after sustaining head injuries inflicted by her boyfriend during a fight, and in August Flora Charley was found dead in her home after being stabbed by her partner. In both cases, the perpetrators were arrested and are awaiting trial.
The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued to increase and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace (see section 6.d.).
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as being equal to those of men. Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance. The country’s nationality law discriminates against citizen mothers who may not alone transmit citizenship to their children.
While women have equal rights under the law, they were only slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, and women experienced discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work (see section 7.d.). The Department of Women worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law.