Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The constitution prohibits the abuse of women. Rape is a crime, but there is no legal provision against spousal rape. The courts treated rape seriously, and the conviction rate was high. The penalties for rape range from two years’ to life imprisonment, but no court has ever imposed a life sentence.
When police received complaints from abused women, authorities investigated and charged the offender. Authorities charge domestic violence as common criminal assault, with a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment. Village councils typically punished domestic-violence offenders only if they considered the abuse extreme, such as when there were visible signs of physical harm. In the past few years, several villages have taken the extra step of incorporating specific fines into their village by-laws.
The government acknowledged that rape and domestic abuse were of significant concern. The National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, released in 2018, revealed that 86 percent of women experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner, and 24 percent had experienced choking. Many cases of rape and domestic abuse went unreported because societal attitudes discouraged such reporting and tolerated domestic abuse. Social pressure and fear of reprisal typically caused such abuse to go unreported.
The Ministry of Police has a nine-person Domestic Violence Unit that works in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and focuses on combating domestic abuse.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and there were no reliable statistics on its incidence. The lack of legislation and a cultural constraint against publicly shaming or accusing someone, even if justifiable, reportedly caused sexual harassment to be underreported. Victims had little incentive to report instances of sexual harassment, since doing so could jeopardize their career or family name.
Reproductive Rights: All individuals and couples have the right to make informed decisions about the number, spacing, and timing of pregnancies, have the right to manage their reproductive health, and were provided with the information and means to do so.
Some of the country’s development partners supported reproductive rights programming through financial and technical support. The Ministry of Health led policy development and oversight as well as program coordination, monitoring, and training. The UN Population Fund, the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, the Pacific Community, and the World Health Organization provided financial and technical support to programming, protocol, policy and strategy development, data analysis, and training.
The government worked closely with the NGO Samoa Victim Support Group that led in caring for and rehabilitating survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women and men have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditionally subordinate role of women continued to change, albeit slowly.
Birth Registration: A child is a citizen by birth in the country if at least one parent is a citizen. The government also may grant citizenship by birth to a child born in the country if the child would otherwise be stateless. Citizenship also derives by birth abroad to a citizen parent who either was born in the country or resided there at least three years. By law children without a birth certificate may not attend primary schools, but authorities did not strictly enforce this law.
Child Abuse: Law and tradition prohibit abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment. The law prohibits corporal punishment in schools; a teacher convicted of corporal punishment of a student may face a maximum one-year prison term. In August a school principal was convicted and fined for caning six students with a hose as punishment for the students’ posting pictures of themselves to social media wearing their school uniforms. Following the incident, the minister of education, sports, and culture publicly spoke out against corporal punishment.
The government aggressively prosecuted reported cases of child abuse.
Press reports indicated an increase in child abuse, especially of incest and indecent assault cases; the rise appeared to be due to citizens’ increased awareness of the importance of reporting physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21 for a man and 19 for a woman. Consent of at least one parent or guardian is necessary if either party is younger than the minimum. Marriage is illegal if a girl is younger than age 16 or a boy is younger than age 18. Early marriage did not generally occur.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Under the law the maximum penalty for sexual relations with children younger than age 12 is life imprisonment and for children between ages 12 and 15 the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law contains a specific criminal provision regarding child pornography. The law specifies a seven-year prison sentence for a person found guilty of publishing, distributing, or exhibiting indecent material featuring a child. Because 16 is the age of majority, the law does not protect 16- and 17-year-old persons.
Although comprehensive data on the sexual abuse of children was not available, the sexual abuse of children remained a widespread problem, and there was a disturbing rise in the number of incidents reported by local media during the year. In the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, nearly 10 percent of female respondents reported they were raped as children by a family member.
The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with NGOs, carried out educational activities to address domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human rights awareness.
International Child Abductions: The country is not 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/reported-cases.html.
The country had no Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
There were no confirmed reports during the year that Samoa was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
While no law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in the provision of public services, the law does prohibit disability-based discrimination in employment.
Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including ramps and elevators in most multistory buildings.
Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and the community observed this custom widely.
Some children with disabilities attended regular public schools, while others attended one of three schools in the capital created specifically to educate students with disabilities.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
In July the Supreme Court sentenced an ethnic Samoan man to life imprisonment for assaulting and killing a person at a Chinese-owned business in 2019; there was at least one other attack on a Chinese-owned business in 2019. Observers felt Chinese were targeted partly because of their ethnicity. Several villages prohibit ethnic Chinese persons from owning shops on village-owned land (approximately 80 percent of the land in the country), measures enacted in response to the spread of Chinese-owned retail businesses.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
“Sodomy” and “indecency between males” are illegal, with maximum penalties of seven and five years’ imprisonment, respectively, but authorities did not enforce these provisions with regard to consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Although there were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were isolated cases of discrimination. Although society generally accepted the traditional Polynesian transgender, nonbinary Fa’afafine community, which plays a prominent role in the country, members of the community reported instances of social discrimination.