Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. There was a large increase in reports of rape during the year, due in part to greater awareness that spousal rape is a crime.
The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to pursue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Courts dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. In May police completed an investigation into a case of incest and rape of a 12-year-old girl but had not filed charges by year’s end. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in both indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In some cases authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law, but local authorities often excluded them from the decision-making process on disposition of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share in the distribution of indigenous land lease proceeds, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty receiving protection orders enforced by police in domestic violence cases.
Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.
Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended family structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be contributing factors to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. The government continued its public awareness campaign against child abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at age 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In indigenous villages, girls younger than age 18 who became pregnant could live as common-law wives with their child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint to police by the family. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 years for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred during the year.
It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children in his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses during the year.
Some high-school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were trafficked for commercial sex during the year, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The court of appeals has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child age 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, a fine of F$25,000 ($11,800), or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a maximum fine of F$50,000 ($23,600); or both for a repeat offense, and the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.
The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers and health and social welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The constitution addresses specifically the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to materials and devices related to the disability; the law, however, does not further define “reasonable.” Moreover, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Statutes provide for the right of access to places and all modes of transport generally open to the public. Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting them.
Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but only a few buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. Parliament continued to televise its sessions in sign language to improve access for persons with hearing disabilities.
There were a number of separate schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.
The law stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported persons with such disabilities at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.
The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. In 2016 the office signed an agreement with the Pacific Disability Forum and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons to create an Elections Disability Access Working Group to improve political participation by the country’s disability community. The national council, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 14 election for voters with disabilities.
Tension between indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. As of July 2017, indigenous Fijians comprised an estimated 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of indigenous Fijians and Rotumans, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Although Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, indigenous Fijians continued to dominate the security forces.
Land tenure remained a highly sensitive and politicized topic. Indigenous Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land; the government, 4 percent; and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom are descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed this limited their ability to own land and their consequent dependence on leased land from indigenous Fijians constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many indigenous Fijian landowners believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.
By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners known as the Vola ni Kawa Bula (native land register). The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and justifies titleholders within indigenous communities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.
In November authorities arrested Saula Temo and charged him in the May death of a transgender man in a suspected hate crime. The case was pending at year’s end.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides all workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.
The law prohibits some forms of antiunion discrimination, including victimizing workers or firing a worker for union membership. The constitution prohibits union officers from becoming members of parliament. The law also limits the ability of union officers to form or join political parties and exercise other political rights.
The law designates “essential service and industries” to include corporations engaged in finance, telecommunications, public-sector employees, mining, transport, and the airline industry. The definition of essential services and industries also includes all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.
The law also limits who may be an officer of a trade union, including prohibiting noncitizens from being trade union officers.
All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with an “undesirable” name, although the law limits the government’s discretion to refuse to register trade union names to those cases where the name is “offensive or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” By law the government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases.
By law any trade union with seven or more members in an industry not designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer.
Unions may conduct secret strike ballots upon 14 days’ notice to the registrar if 50 percent of all members who are entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also give 14 days’ notice; notify the Arbitration Court; and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the matter to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.
Limited data were available on the government’s enforcement of legal provisions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining included fines and imprisonment; observers considered them sufficient to deter violations. Individuals, employers, and unions (on behalf of their members) may submit employment disputes and grievances alleging discrimination, unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, or certain other unfair labor practices to the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations.
The two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, held meetings during the year without government interference.
Labor relations became strained after a December 2017 impasse involving the management and approximately 200 employees of the airport and passenger ground-handling company, Airport Terminal Services. Workers claimed management locked out and suspended workers for attending a meeting to discuss their grievances. In mid-January an estimated 2,500 persons demonstrated in support of the workers, and police did not intervene to disrupt the march. A national strike proposed by the FTUC was averted after the Employment Relations Tribunal ordered management to allow the workers to return.
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
The Office of Labor Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the particular case. The government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes imprisonment penalties, which observers considered sufficient to deter violations.
There were reports forced labor occurred, including forced labor of children (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Although the law provides that education is compulsory until age 15 years, children age 13 to 15 may be employed on a daily wage basis in nonindustrial “light” work not involving machinery, provided they return to their parents or guardian every night. The law sets a limit of eight hours per day that a child can work but does not include a list of permissible activities. Children age 15 to 17 may be employed, but they must have specified hours and rest breaks. They may not be employed in hazardous occupations and activities, including those involving heavy machinery, hazardous materials, mining, or heavy physical labor, the care of children, or work within security services.
The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations deployed inspectors countrywide to enforce compliance with the law, including law covering child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable law, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies that violate these provisions.
Poverty continued to influence children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, and to work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, including work as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers, including in agriculture. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Some children worked in relatives’ homes and were vulnerable to involuntary domestic servitude or forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination. The law stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal remuneration for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground in mines but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Under the law workers may file complaints on the ground of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Limited data were available on the government’s antidiscrimination provisions and its enforcement. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and are generally sufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 30 percent of the economically active female population engaged in the formal economy, and a large number of these women worked in semisubsistence farming or were self-employed. By law women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land, but authorities seldom recognized this right (see section 6). The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due to lack of access, insufficient education and training, and discrimination by employers.
As of September 2017, the national minimum hourly wage was F$2.68 ($1.27). The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights. There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage did not typically provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
There is no single countrywide limitation on maximum working hours for adults, but there are restrictions and overtime provisions in certain sectors. The government establishes workplace safety laws and regulations.
The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations’ Office of Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. Convictions for a breach of the minimum wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel and delays in compensation hearings and rulings. Although the law excludes mines from general workplace health and safety laws, it empowers the director of mines to inspect all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of employers charged by the inspectorate with violating minimum wage orders and decide on compensation claims filed by the inspectorate on behalf of workers.
Unions generally monitored safety standards in organized workplaces, but many work areas did not meet standards, and the ministry did not monitor all workplaces for compliance. Workers in some industries, notably security, transportation, and shipping, worked excessive hours. Media reported two workers died in work-related incidents during the year.
In June the FTUC lodged concerns about the country’s labor relations with the International Labor Organization following a labor dispute involving workers at the Vatukoula Gold Mine. According to the FTUC, mineworkers, who labored in some of the most dangerous working environments in the country, received no wage adjustments for more than a decade and wanted workplace safety and security concerns addressed.