Federated States of Micronesia

Executive Summary

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy and their traditional leaders retain considerable influence, especially in Pohnpei and Yap. The latest election for the 10 members of the unicameral Congress who serve two-year terms occurred in March 2017, and observers considered the election generally free and fair. The previous election for all 14 members to Congress, including the four members from at-large state districts who are elected to four-year terms, occurred in March 2015. Congress, in its first session in 2015 following the elections, elected Peter M. Christian as president from among the four at-large members who are eligible to serve as president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government sometimes took steps to punish officials, but impunity was a problem, particularly for alleged corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Authorities usually held pretrial detainees in the same facilities but in separate areas from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of medical facilities or community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government used separate jail cells to house persons with mental disabilities who had no criminal background.

There are no separate juvenile detention facilities, but two of the four states have designated cells for juveniles. The states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson to respond to complaints. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but they rarely investigated such allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government has the obligation to investigate and monitor prison and detention center conditions, but no information was available publicly on whether it did so. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there was no information publicly available on whether independent monitoring occurred.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice (Attorney General’s Office) oversees them. The four state police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the control of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. Charges from 2017 against a Chuuk security force member for protecting clan members accused of assaulting a foreign resident were settled out of court, and the foreign resident departed Chuuk.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants are required for arrests, and authorities advised detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must bring detainees before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest, a requirement generally observed. Courts released most arrested persons on bail or after they relinquished their passports. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members and lawyers. Not all detainees who requested help from the public defender’s office received adequate legal assistance due to an insufficient number of trained lawyers. Authorities held no suspects incommunicado.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Authorities allowed closed hearings for cases involving juveniles. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to be present at their trial, and cannot be forced to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to counsel and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges; receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; present witnesses and evidence; confront witnesses against them; and appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons. In some cases, however, state governments attempted to deport foreign workers who were victims of a crime before their cases came to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access was available in all four states, but service was slow with frequent outages. According to the International Telecommunication Union, more than 33 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement. Other laws allow for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government most recently cooperated with UNHCR to process asylum seekers in the country in 2016.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 2017 election for Congress for 10 legislators who serve two-year terms was generally free and fair. In 2015 the country held elections for all 14 legislators, including four at-large members from the four states. Following the 2015 election, Congress selected Peter M. Christian as president from among the four at-large members who were eligible to serve as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there were no significant efforts to organize political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family, allied clan groupings, and religious groups.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women’s representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, but they were notably few in the upper ranks. At year’s end three women held cabinet-level positions of secretary of finance and administration, postmaster general, and secretary of health and social affairs. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. The country’s first female ambassador served as permanent representative to the United Nations. There were two elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature. There were no female members of other state legislatures or national Congress.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both Congress and the executive branch included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law, but some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous anecdotal reports of corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for combating government corruption, including investigation and prosecution of individual cases. The office had sufficient resources. It operated independently and actively collaborated with civil society via a hotline operated by the Office of the National Public Auditor to encourage reporting of public complaints of corruption. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year. One case concluded with the individual losing his job.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by public officials.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Although there are no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the government cooperated with these groups. There were active women’s associations throughout the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault, including rape, is a crime. There is no specific law against spousal rape. Sexual assault involving a dangerous weapon or serious physical or psychological harm to the victim is punishable by a maximum nine years’ imprisonment in Chuuk and 10 years’ imprisonment in the other three states, and a maximum fine of $20,000 (the U.S. dollar is the national currency) in Kosrae and $10,000 in the other states. If neither a dangerous weapon nor serious physical harm is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by a maximum five years’ imprisonment and a fine. Due in part to social stigma, family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves in what is seen as a private family matter, such crimes were underreported, and authorities prosecuted few cases. According to police and women’s groups, there were several reports of physical and sexual assaults against women, both citizens and foreigners, outside the family context.

Reports of domestic violence, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, effective prosecution of offenses was rare. The traditional extended family unit deemed violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children as offenses against the entire family, not just the individual victims, and addressed them by a complex system of familial sanctions. Traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down with increasing urbanization, monetization of the economy, and greater emphasis on the nuclear family in which victims were isolated from traditional family support. No institution, including police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing directly the problem of family violence.

There are no governmental facilities to provide shelter and support to women in abusive situations. The Pohnpei Department of Public Safety’s program of domestic violence included a hotline to handle domestic violence cases. During the year Kosrae and Pohnpei States passed laws addressing domestic violence against women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested it occurred.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have equal rights under the law, including the right to own property, and there were no institutional barriers to education or employment for women. The largest employers were the national and state governments, and they paid female employees equal pay for equal work. Societal discrimination against women continued, however, and cultural mores encouraged discriminatory treatment for women.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen. Individual states maintain birth records. Kosrae State requires registration within two weeks after a birth. In the other three states, registration takes place for hospital births, but on remote outer islands there are no hospitals, and authorities do not register children until and unless they come to a main island for education.

Education: By law education is free and compulsory for children from ages six through 14, or upon completion of eighth grade; however, many students left school before that.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, although the constitution provides for a right of parental discipline. Cultural attitudes regarding parental discipline limited reporting of abuse, and there were anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect. The government made no efforts to combat child abuse or neglect. There were no shelters for child victims of domestic abuse. Traditional mediation usually involved agreement among male elders and provided no support for child victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls; however, girls younger than age 18 require the consent of at least one parent or a guardian to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The national law against trafficking in persons sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for child trafficking. The states’ statutory rape laws apply to children 13 years or younger in Yap and Kosrae and 15 years or younger in Pohnpei. In 2017 Chuuk State passed a law increasing the age of consent to 18. The maximum penalties vary by state. In Chuuk and Pohnpei, it is five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, while in Kosrae and Yap, it is 10 years’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. Only Pohnpei has a statute prohibiting child pornography. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei have provisions against filming explicit movies of underage children, but Yap and Kosrae have no such provisions. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei impose a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for violations.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community, and 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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical disabilities in public service employment. Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities. No policies or programs provided access to information and communications for persons with disabilities.

By law students with disabilities have the right to separate education and training until they are age 21; however, there are no separate education facilities. The government provided children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, separate education in mainstream schools, and instruction at home if necessary and if foreign funding was available. Separate education programs faced difficulties serving all eligible children.

Due to a lack of facilities and community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government housed some persons with mental disabilities but no criminal background in jails. Authorities continued to provide separate rooms in jails for persons with mental disabilities, and state health departments provided medication as part of their programs to provide free treatment to all incarcerated persons with mental disabilities.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but did not provide significant services.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Each of the country’s four states has a different language and culture. Traditionally Yap State had a caste-like social system with high-status villages, each of which had an affiliated low-status village. In the past those who came from low-status villages worked without pay for those with higher status in exchange for care and protection by those of higher status. The traditional hierarchical social system has gradually broken down, and capable persons from low-status villages could rise to senior positions in society. Nonetheless, the traditional system affected contemporary life. Authorities sometimes continued to underserve low-status communities.

The national and state constitutions prohibit noncitizens from owning land, and foreign investment laws limit the types of businesses they can own and operate.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; nor does it prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons. The culture stigmatized public acknowledgement or discussion of certain sexual matters, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Persons rarely publicly identified as LGBTI.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, under the constitution citizens have the right to form or join associations, and by law government employees can form associations to “present their views” to the government without being subject to coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. Citizens did not exercise this right. No law deals specifically with trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes.

Although the law does not prohibit workers, including foreign workers, from joining unions, there were no unions and most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses or in subsistence farming and fishing. No nongovernmental organizations focused on unions or labor issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law, although resources and inspections were minimal. The national antitrafficking law provides for penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. There were reports of foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries working in conditions indicative of human trafficking on Asian fishing vessels in the country or its territorial waters.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

National and state laws do not establish a minimum age or prescribe limits on hours or occupations for employment of children. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. There was no employment of children for wages, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and family-owned shops. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex, particularly to foreign fishermen and other seafarers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. Labor law also prohibits discrimination based on race and gender. The law also provides protections for persons with disabilities, but they are limited in scope. The law does not provide for specific legal protections for age, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or positive diagnosis of AIDS or other diseases.

There was no pattern of discrimination in most areas, although discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities. Traditional customs, especially in Yap State, limited professional opportunities for lower-status and outer-island persons. Women were underrepresented in all areas except in the service sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was not below the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law sets a standard of an eight-hour day and a five-day workweek, with premium pay for overtime. There are no legal provisions prohibiting excessive or compulsory overtime. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Division of Immigration and Labor within the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing these standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. The tax system monitored the minimum wage effectively. The government generally was effective in its enforcement of these standards and provided sufficient resources for effective enforcement.

Approximately one-half of workers were in the informal economy where the law does not apply, predominantly in subsistence agriculture and fishing. Working conditions aboard some foreign-owned fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters continued to be very poor. Crewmembers reported incidents of injuries, beatings by officers, and nonpayment of salaries.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a constitutional republic led by President Hilda C. Heine. The Nitijela, the country’s parliament, elected Heine in early 2016 following free and fair multiparty elections in late 2015.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption.

The government did not initiate or conclude investigations or prosecutions of officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Majuro and Ebeye jail authorities routinely held drunk prisoners naked. Government officials stated they did this so that prisoners could not use their clothing to attempt suicide.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Treatment of prisoners and prison conditions were harsh and at times degrading.

Physical Conditions: No specialized prison facilities existed for juvenile or adult female prisoners at the jail in Majuro. Authorities did not hold women with men in the Majuro jail. Generally, female prisoners in the capital were held under house arrest, which involved taking away their passports and confining them to their homes at night. According to prison guards, in a few isolated incidents, women arrested for driving under the influence were held with male prisoners for 24 to 48 hours, usually over a weekend or local holiday, when it was not possible to process them quickly enough to put them immediately under house arrest.

A chief complaint in the Majuro jail was the lack of adequate ventilation. Prisoners were cramped in small cells with no air conditioning, windows, or fans, while the daily temperature outside was usually above 90 degrees. Prisoners had to supply their own electric fans. Lighting in cells was inadequate; prisoners had to supply their own lamps or other light sources. The facility was unsanitary; the guards reported that there were no janitors, and prisoners were given cleaning products.

The jail in Ebeye on Kwajalein Atoll, attached to the courthouse, is the only detention facility in the country other than the Majuro jail. In 2017 High Court judge Colin Winchester described Ebeye’s jail as “horrible” and “degrading for anyone who must be confined in it.” According to the judge, he observed 10 individuals incarcerated there, and “if there are two or three people there, it is at its humane limit.” National Police officials commented that Ebeye is supposed to send all prisoners to Majuro jail but does not always do so because of the high cost of transportation.

Authorities allowed prisoners to leave facilities periodically on work details or for meals at home. Police escorted prisoners needing medical treatment to the Majuro Hospital where they received free treatment.

Administration: Although authorities permitted inmates to submit complaints about their treatment without censorship and investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions, there were no complaints of physical abuse filed during the year. On-duty guards often left their posts during the lunch hour.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no requests for such visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, local police forces, and the Sea Patrol (maritime police) maintain internal security. The National Police and Sea Patrol report to the Ministry of Justice. Local police forces report to their respective local government councils, not to the Ministry of Justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the constitution, a warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest if there is adequate time to obtain one. The courts interpret this requirement to exempt situations such as a breach of the peace or a felony in progress. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Authorities generally respected this right and informed detainees promptly of the charges against them.

There was a functioning system of bail, and detainees may request bond immediately upon arrest for minor offenses. The constitution requires bail be set at a reasonable rate. Most serious offenses require the detainee to remain in jail until authorities can arrange a hearing, normally the morning after arrest. Detainees were allowed access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to one provided by the state. There were no known cases of incommunicado detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

The majority of trials are bench trials, in which only a judge hears the case; however, if the penalty for the alleged offense is three or more years in prison, defendants may select either a bench trial or a four-member jury trial. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to counsel. The government provides an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing criminal charges. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation between English and Marshallese as necessary. Defendants also have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and with adequate time to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may question witnesses. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights apply equally to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is no separate judiciary in civil matters. There are administrative remedies for alleged wrongs, including human rights abuses, as well as judicial remedies within the general court system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to provide for freedom of expression, including for the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access and availability increased, although it remained low (approximately 10 percent of the country’s population) due to high cost and technical difficulties, particularly in areas outside the capital city, Majuro.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

U.S. nuclear testing from 1947 to 1958 displaced an estimated 14,000 individuals (original evacuees and their descendants). Some relocated to the United States, but most remained as IDPs residing in several locations across the country, including Kili Island and Ejit Islet in Majuro Atoll. IDPs did not suffer societal discrimination and received substantial government support.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government, including their representatives in the Nitijela, in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The constitution also recognizes the hereditary Council of Iroij’s right to decide on issues of custom and tradition, including land tenure. The council consists of traditional clan chiefs.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national legislative elections took place in November 2015 and were generally regarded as free and fair. A special election in November 2017 on Namdrik Atoll to fill the seat of deceased Member of Parliament Mattlan Zackhras, who also served as Minister in Assistance, was free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional attitudes of male dominance, women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies, however, made it difficult for women to obtain political qualifications or experience. President Heine is a woman.

There were few minorities in the country and none in the legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and although the government generally implemented the law effectively, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017) audit of the national government was only the second to be completed on schedule during the past seven years; like previous audits, it listed several deficiencies and material weaknesses.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office reported it received 13 allegations of bribery in official matters through August. These involved theft, check forgeries, securing execution of documents by deception, embezzlement, bid rigging, abuse of public office for private gain, and misappropriation of public funds. One notable corruption case concluded in March, when the High Court found a former senator from Mili Atoll, Kejjo Bien, guilty of “civil theft” for wrongfully taking and converting $40,000 in grant money from Taiwan for his own use. (The country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.)

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including by a spouse, is a crime with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize it; to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators; and to provide support for survivors. The law also requires certain professionals to report suspected domestic violence.

The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence is intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limits the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. During the year two men in different incidents on remote outer atolls were charged criminally by the Attorney General’s office for beating girlfriends or ex-wives, while two other women successfully got court protection orders requiring violent perpetrators to stay away from victims. Prosecutions for domestic violence were sporadic, and awareness of the law was low outside the capital. A general lack of capacity and resources hindered the prosecution of rape and domestic violence cases. Court rules protect women during testimony in rape cases, primarily by shielding the victim as witness from the accused.

Various studies have suggested that sexual violence of all types is common, but frequently unreported. A May Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs gender equality report estimated that 51 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The same study found that 54 percent of domestic violence victims did not report the incident because of fear of retribution or a belief that the abuse was justified. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed that violence against women was justified in many situations. The fact that, during the year, 50 percent of women who sought protective orders against abusive partners in court eventually withdrew the requests underscored these studies’ conclusions.

The government’s health office provided limited counseling services when spouse or child abuse was reported, but there were no government shelters for domestic violence victims. NGOs continued efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. WUTMI, formed to advance women’s rights, conducted numerous programs to change public attitudes, such as its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which included a march. It also organized training as part of its annual conference. Through its Weto In Mour: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service, cofounded with government and donor partners, WUTMI provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as a petty misdemeanor.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the female landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country.

Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. Many women were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. There is no law on equal pay; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through one’s parents. Children born within the country to foreign parents do not acquire citizenship at birth but may apply for citizenship upon turning 18. Failure to register births generally did not result in the denial of public services such as education or medical care.

Education: Although primary education is legally compulsory, the government did not strictly enforce the law. To enter public high school, students must take an admission exam, but due to space constraints, not all who passed the exam could attend public high schools.

Child Abuse: Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses, but public awareness of children’s rights remained low. Convictions for violations are punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison, depending on the degree of the offense. The law requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability as a consequence of making such a report. Child abuse and neglect remained common.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26.3 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18. There were no known government measures to prevent or mitigate early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, remained largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The law stipulates that authorities may not punish child victims of sexual exploitation and that these victims should have access to support services.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were few Jewish residents in the country. Even after many months, local officials took no action to erase anti-Semitic graffiti visible in several locations in Majuro.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials, but it does not include disability in its listing of specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Relevant law is designed to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services.

There were no specific psychiatric facilities in the country or community-based supports for persons with mental disabilities, although the Ministry of Health provided short-term care at the Majuro Hospital or facilities off-island.

The NGO Marshall Islands Disabled Persons Organization worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ disability officer to promote and protect the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Health addresses the health needs of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities and continued to incorporate awareness programs for students with disabilities, in particular those with hearing disabilities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Neither the constitution nor law provides specific protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reports of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. The law prohibits same-sex couples or individuals involved in a same-sex relationship from adopting Marshallese children.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government interpreted this right as allowing people to form and join independent labor unions. The law neither provides for nor prohibits collective bargaining or the right to strike. The law does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government enforced freedom of association laws. Penalties take the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

With a small number of major employers, there were few opportunities for workers to unionize. Independent trade unions did not exist, and there were no NGOs promoting the rights of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor, and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $10,000.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no reports of government enforcement, and there were no reported investigations of forced labor.

There were reports of families holding or attempting to hold extended relatives, including children, in domestic servitude, but there were no known formal allegations made or convictions for this practice. There were also reports some foreign fishermen were subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age, hours of work, or occupational health restrictions for employment of children. The law prohibits exploitation of children younger than 18 years, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. No information was available on government enforcement efforts regarding the worst forms of child labor.

Children typically did not work in the wage economy, but it was common for children to assist their families in fishing, agriculture, retailing, and other small-scale enterprises. This was particularly true in the subsistence economies of the more remote atolls where copra production can take children from school and reduce educational outcomes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials. Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination. The constitution states that the attorney general, in all cases of violations of the constitution, whether by private or public officials, has the standing to complain of the violation in judicial proceedings. The criminal code does not stipulate any specific penalty in such cases. There were no formal complaints of employment discrimination during the year to September. No law mandates equal pay for equal work; government employees receive pay equity. Under the law, citizens receive preference in hiring, and noncitizen workers are hired only to supplement the local work force when no citizens qualify for the job. The law requires that employers who hire foreign workers pay a fee used for training citizen workers. Many employers willingly paid the fee to hire technically skilled labor, which was not widely available in the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a minimum wage of $3.00 per hour for both government and private-sector employees. The government has not effectively enforced the law. The minimum wage does not apply to casual workers or family employees. There was no official poverty level.

Foreign employees and local trainees of private employers who invested in or established a business in the country are exempt from minimum wage requirements provided the employer receives government authorization. Most foreign workers, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the workforce (excluding agroforestry), and most of the professional and technical classes in the country earned considerably more than the minimum wage. Their earnings were estimated to average at least 50 percent higher than those of local workers.

The law provides for a standard workday of eight hours, but places no restrictions on the amount of overtime that could be worked.

No legislation provides protection for workers who file official complaints about conditions that endanger their health or safety. The law does not provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Board of Inquiry within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the authority to make recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, such as the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards for workers. There were no policy recommendations or political initiatives by the Board of Inquiry during the year, however, and the office did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The office is empowered to do so, but it does not have dedicated inspectors to carry out inspections to enforce sufficient compliance. The law provides no protections for informal-sector workers, which generally included work on a family farm or in copra production.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic. Voters elect the president, vice president, and members of the legislature (House of Delegates) for four-year terms. In 2016 voters re-elected Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. president for a four-year term in a generally free and fair election.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, although it did not punish any officials for involvement in human trafficking offenses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The country’s only jail, in Koror, with a capacity of 58, housed 76 inmates, all male as of December.

There was one report of a death (suicide by hanging) in prison.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Justice maintained effective control over the national police and marine police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrests, and officials observed the law. The Office of the Attorney General prepares warrants and a judge signs them. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, a requirement authorities observed. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them and provided prompt access to family members and lawyers. If a detainee could not afford a lawyer, the public defender or a court-appointed lawyer was available. There is a functioning system of bail.

An arrested person has the right to remain silent and to speak to and receive visits from counsel, a family member, or employer. Authorities must release or charge those arrested within 24 hours, and authorities must inform detainees of these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to consult with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense), and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has no established system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 voters re-elected Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. president and elected Raynold Oilouch vice president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Government corruption was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. There were isolated reports of government corruption, and the government took steps to address them.

Corruption: In 2016 an immigration official pled guilty to charges of misconduct and criminal conspiracy to commit forgery. According to the Ministry of Justice, the immigration officer violated conditions of her probation by leaving the country without permission of the court. There was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

Financial Disclosure: The government requires elected and some appointed public officials to file annual financial disclosure statements; candidates for office must file a similar statement with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The President’s Office has an Office of the Ombudsman to which any citizen may complain.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $50,000 (national currency is U.S. dollar), or both. Domestic violence is a criminal offense. The law is enforced when police respond to calls of domestic violence; however, many people are reluctant to call police in these situations. The most recent government-sponsored research project on violence against women indicated that approximately 35 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence or both since the age of 15. There are no shelters for victims of rape and domestic violence. There was a domestic violence counselor available through the Bureau of Public Health. The government conducted public education efforts to combat abuse against women and children.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a maximum one-year’s imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both. There were reported cases of sexual harassment during the year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The constitution provides women and men equal parental rights, privileges, and responsibilities. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying positions of importance within the traditional system. There were no reports of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: At least one parent must be a citizen of the country in order to transmit citizenship to a child. Birth registration occurs immediately, and there were no reports of failure to register. Authorities register a child born to foreign national parents as a citizen of the parents’ countries.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no minimum age for marriage between two citizens. The minimum age for marriage between a citizen and a noncitizen is 18 years for a man and 16 years for a woman, and women younger than 18 years must obtain parental permission. Underage marriage was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the law was enforced, with nine men convicted during the year in the same case of sexual assault and promoting prostitution of minors. The age of consensual sex is 17 years. Sexual assault of a minor younger than 15 years is a felony and is subject to a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, a $50,000 fine, or both. Child sexual abuse is a felony with fines up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both. The law does not specifically address child pornography.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly fewer than 20 persons in the Jewish community. 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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The law covers persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the government enforced these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had separate programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and there are no provisions for naturalization. Some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment, pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination (see section 7.d.). Authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws addressed sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including to join and organize labor unions and to bargain collectively; no laws regulate trade union organization. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue. There is no law concerning antiunion discrimination. The government enforced the laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were no active labor unions or other employee organizations. The majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor offenses include imprisonment and fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. The Office of the Attorney General, the Bureau of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources (all within the Ministry of Justice) are responsible for enforcing the law.

There were reports employers forced some foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers, unskilled construction laborers, and workers in the tourism industry to accept jobs different from those for which they had signed contract, or were paid less than the original agreement. There were also reports of fraudulent recruitment onto fishing boats, with fishermen subsequently facing conditions indicative of forced labor. Employers sometimes verbally threatened or withheld passports and return tickets of foreign workers desiring to leave unfavorable work situations. Abuses most commonly reported included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There were also complaints of physical abuse. In several cases local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age of employment for citizens is 16 years, and the minimum age for noncitizens is 21 years, excluding entertainers applying for temporary identification certificates. The law requires the government to protect children from exploitation. The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations related to child labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and the penalties were adequate to deter violations.

There were no reports children worked in the formal economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, marital status, place of origin, religion, disabilities, or political grounds. The law protects women from job discrimination and provides for equal pay for equal work. The Bureau of Aging and Gender, under the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, promotes workplace gender equality. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. There were no reports of employment discrimination.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The Office of the Attorney General and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources handle cases of workplace discrimination against foreign workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage by law (which applies only to citizens) is $3.50 per hour. There was no official estimate of the poverty income level. The law does not include informal-sector work, such as domestic work, some categories of agricultural work, nongovernmental organization workers, foreign workers, employees who are students, or temporary or probationary work of students and youths younger than 21 years.

The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources has established some regulations about conditions of employment for foreign workers, who are entitled to one day off per week, consisting of 10 continuous hours without working between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The bureau may inspect the conditions of the workplace and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of an employee, but enforcement was inconsistent, and working conditions varied. There was one major industrial accident during the year in which workers were injured or killed.

Although the law states that employers shall adopt reasonable and adequate occupational safety and health rules, no law protects workers who file complaints about hazardous conditions. Foreign workers may self-censor complaints due to fear they could lose their job if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety.

The Division of Labor had seven labor inspectors responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws, regulations regarding working conditions of foreign employees, and safety standards and laws. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the law, employers are subject to a civil penalty for noncompliance with minimum wage requirements, in addition to the amount of taxes, social security contributions, and interest on unpaid wages. Penalties for violations related to acceptable conditions of work include a range of monetary fines per violation and imprisonment, which were not sufficient to deter violations.

Wages for domestic helpers employed in private households generally were lower than the minimum wage. The country continued to attract foreign workers from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. An Immigration and Labor Monitoring Task Force established in 2017 resulted in the departure of workers due to overstay, working without permits, or unsolvable disagreements between employee and employer.

There were continuing reports of the mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers. The foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, cashiers, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future