An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In November 2018 the country held general elections, which international observers deemed free, transparent, and credible. Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won 27 of 51 seats in parliament, and he began a second four-year term as prime minister.

The Fiji Police Force maintains internal security. The Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic-security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, such as substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; and trafficking in persons.

The government investigated some security-force officials who committed abuses and prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses elsewhere in the government; however, impunity was a problem in cases with political implications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. The POA also gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The authorities continue to use the wide provisions in this law to restrict freedom of expression. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA). The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

In July the appellate court reviewed an appeal brought by the prosecution in the case of three staff members of the Fiji Times, including the editor in chief, who were acquitted on sedition charges in May 2018; a decision on the appeal remains pending. Despite the journalists’ acquittal, media observers and human rights activists expressed concern the long investigation and trial had served to stifle free speech. The three staff were charged with sedition for the 2016 publication of a letter to the editor in the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai.

Violence and Harassment: On April 3, police detained three journalists from New Zealand’s Newsroom agency who were investigating allegations of environmental damage caused by a Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, on Fiji’s Malolo Island. Police released the journalists 13 hours later, without charge. Prime Minister Bainimarama personally delivered a public apology for the officers’ actions, while Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho clarified in the media that the detention was “an isolated incident by a small group of rogue police officers.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law authorizes the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased prior censorship in 2012, the law remains on the books, and journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship citing a fear of prosecution. Despite this, media published opinion articles by academics and commentators critical of the government.

By law, directors and 90 percent of shareholders in local media must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has power to investigate media outlets for alleged violations, and the power to search facilities and seize equipment.

The code of ethics in the law requires that media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years.

The law on television requires television station operators to conform to the media law’s code of ethics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander and defamation are treated as civil matters under the law. The constitution, however, includes protecting the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including of the press. Some measure of this constitutional provision was enacted via the 2018 Online Safety Act. Authorities have used this act and the commission established in January under this act to restrict public discussion, establishing a de facto form of criminal libel with imprisonment penalties (see Internet Freedom, below).

Court decisions on two separate 2018 defamation lawsuits, the first brought by the prime minister and attorney general and the second by supervisor of elections, charging opposition critics with posting defamatory remarks on social media remained pending at year’s end.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were some reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

The purpose of the 2018 Online Safety Act, according to the government, is to protect minors from offensive online behavior, cybercrime, and cyber bullying. The law penalized offenders with a maximum fine of FJD 20,000 ($9,140) and a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Critics, however, including rights groups and youth and women’s organizations, warned it was a potential “trojan horse” for internet censorship and punishment of online dissent. Critics’ fears worsened when, on January 2, the first commissioner for online safety publicly told media: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” After enacting the law, the government filed several defamation lawsuits against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media.

In May the court sentenced former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s son, Rajendra Chaudhry, in absentia to 15 months’ imprisonment and a FJD 50,000 ($22,900) fine for contempt of court after he failed to appear for a civil defamation case brought against him by the attorney general, who claimed Chaudhry’s 2018 Facebook posts defamed the Fiji judicial system, chief justice and chief registrar, and undermined public confidence in the administration of justice in the country.

All telephone and internet users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The law imposes a maximum fine of FJD 100,000 ($45,700) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a maximum fine of FJD 10,000 ($4,570) on users who did not update their registration information as required.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons who enter the country on tourist visas to conduct research must notify and seek permission from the government.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government restricted these freedoms in some cases.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly but allows the government to limit this right in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections. The constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of assembly to protect the rights of others and imposes restrictions on public officials’ rights to freedom of assembly.

The POA allows authorities to use whatever force necessary to prohibit or disperse public and private meetings after “due warning,” in order to preserve public order.

Although event organizers said authorities were sometimes very slow to issue permits, they granted permits for public rallies in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community and the 16 Days of Activism against Domestic Violence Campaign. Authorities, however, denied permits for public-service unions and the political opposition to protest.

Executive members of the Fijian Teachers Association (FTA), an affiliate member of FTUC, claimed police harassed and threatened them with “further action” over plans to hold a march during an Asian Development Bank (ADB) summit to be hosted by Fiji from May 1-5, and also if they failed to turn up for meetings at the police office. The Ministry of Education also threatened teachers with further reprisals, including legal action, if they participated in a planned May 3 nationwide strike (see section 7, below).

On June 17, police detained the president of the Fiji National Farmers Union (NFU), Surendra Lal, for questioning regarding alleged incitement and threatening to disrupt the harvesting of sugar cane. After two days Lal was released without being charged. According to an NFU statement, the detention came when growers were protesting low cane payments, a low forecast price for sugar, and the imposition of cane-cartage weight restrictions for trucks, which the union claimed would significantly add to transport costs.

On October 8, police rejected a request from the opposition National Federation Party (NFP) for a permit to march in Suva on October 10, Fiji’s national day. The police claimed the party failed to fulfill filing requirements. The proposed march was to protest the delayed police investigation into an alleged assault on NFP President Pio Tikoduadua by Prime Minister Bainimarama on August 9 (see section 3, below).

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association but limits this right in the interests of national security, public order, and morality and also for the orderly conduct of elections. The government generally did not restrict membership in NGOs, professional associations, and other private organizations.

On May 2, police raided the FTUC’s headquarters without a warrant and confiscated documents, laptops, and other equipment belonging to the union.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Under the POA, to enforce public order, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: There were no reports the government restricted any person’s in-country movement during the year.

Exile: The government used re-entry bans as a de facto means of exiling critics. As in past years, opposition parties called on the government to lift re-entry bans on all existing and former citizens, including historian and former citizen Brij Lal, a critic of the government living in Australia. The Immigration Department has stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place as of November. Lal was deported from Fiji in 2009 by the interim government for activities “prejudicial to the peace, defense, and public security of the Government of Fiji.” Lal’s wife, Padma, also an academic, was stopped from re-entering the country in 2010.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides assistance to officials to undertake refugee-status determination procedures.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2018 voters elected 51 members of parliament. The governing Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. In presenting its conclusions, the Australian- and Indonesian-led Multinational Observer Group stated: “Conditions supported Fijians exercising their right to vote freely. The 2018 process was transparent and credible overall, and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. Nevertheless, the government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues, and these were granted in an open, nonpartisan, fair way.

The law requires that parties submit applications, which must include 5,000 members’ signatures, for registration. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense and requires trade union leaders to resign their positions before running as candidates.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of JD 50,000 ($22,900), or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

The law also reduces the opposition’s power and ability to introduce petitions in parliament. Any petition tabled in parliament requires the support of a minimum of 20 parliamentarians (40 percent) before members may present it for debate.

Opposition National Federation Party parliamentarian Pio Tikoduadua claimed the prime minister had assaulted him on August 9 outside parliament. Video footage of the incident, widely viewed on the internet, showed Prime Minister Bainimarama briefly grabbing Tikoduadua by the lapel and shoving him. A parliamentary privileges committee cleared the prime minister of assault in September but found that the two men breached parliamentary rules by insulting each other and ordered they apologize or face a six-month suspension from parliament. Prime Minister Bainimarama apologized, but Tikoduadua refused and was suspended from parliament for six months on September 6. A police investigation into the alleged assault by the prime minister continued at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, were underrepresented in government and the military, although they held six of 13 cabinet minister positions and six of 10 assistant-minister positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including FICAC public-service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on FICAC investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption.

The government adequately funded FICAC, but some observers questioned its independence and viewed some of its high-profile prosecutions as politically motivated.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged two police officers with fraud.

Corruption cases often proceeded slowly. In October the trial of former corrections chief lieutenant colonel Ifereimi Vasu began. Authorities dismissed him in 2015 for abuse of office related to his alleged misuse of a prison minimart.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The law, however, requires financial disclosures by candidates running for election and party officials. In May 2018 FICAC charged Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, with making a false declaration of his assets, income, and liabilities. The court acquitted Rabuka of all charges in October 2018. The appellate court dismissed a FICAC appeal of the ruling a week later.

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

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

The law constrained NGO operations in several ways. For example, the law includes criticism of the government in its definition of sedition.

A women’s advocate publicly alleged police called her repeatedly before a planned meeting for civil society organizations with visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, demanding she reveal what she would discuss with Guterres and asking who else would attend the meeting.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the FHRADC, and it continued to receive reports of human rights violations lodged by citizens. The constitution prohibits the FHRADC from investigating cases filed by individuals and organizations relating to the 2006 coup and the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution. While the FHRADC routinely worked with the government to improve certain human rights matters (such as prisoner treatment), observers reported it generally declined to address politically sensitive human rights matters and typically took the government’s side in public statements, leading observers to assess the FHRADC as progovernment.

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

Women

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. As of June, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center recorded 295 domestic-violence cases; the center reported that eight women died in domestic-violence incidents as of September.

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. 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. Sexual harassment was a significant problem.

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 obtaining protection orders, and police enforcement of them, 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.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.

Education: Education is compulsory until age 15, but the law does not provide for free education. The government nonetheless as a matter of policy provides for free education.

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. Reports indicated the number of child-abuse cases in the country increased and more children sought shelter at state-funded homes. The government continued its public-awareness campaign against child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at or before 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 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. Commercial sexual exploitation of children was perpetuated by family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen, and crew members on foreign fishing vessels. The NGO Pacific Dialogue and the International Labor Organization claimed to have received reports of children engaging in organized prostitution, including being advertised online.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. 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 ages 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 FJD 25,000 ($11,400), or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a maximum fine of FJD 50,000 ($22,900), 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/reported-cases.html/.

Anti-Semitism

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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The constitution or laws address 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 accommodative 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.” 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. The Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, 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 2018 election for voters with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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. Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, indigenous Fijians dominate the security forces.

Land tenure remained highly sensitive and politicized. 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 were 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 that their dependence on leased land 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, the Vola ni Kawa Bula. 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 LGBTI persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.

The case against Saula Temo, arrested in November 2018 for the death of a transgender woman in a suspected hate crime in May 2018, continued at year’s end.

Police continued investigations into the 2017 murder of another transgender woman, Iosefo Magnus.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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 law limits who may be an officer of a trade union, prohibiting noncitizens, for example, from serving as officers. 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.

All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with a name that 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 of Trade Unions and the strike may begin if 50 percent of all members who are entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also notify the Arbitration Court; and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. 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 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.

The government did not enforce these rights. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and of collective bargaining agreements include 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 (MEPIR).

Relations between the government and the two trade union umbrella bodies, the FTUC and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions remained strained. The government took a number of steps against union officials and workers planning strikes and protest marches. In April, authorities harassed officials of the FTUC who planned to hold a May 3 nationwide strike and a May 4 protest in Nadi, the site of an ADB summit to be hosted by Fiji on May 1-5. Authorities denied permits for the protests and deployed approximately 400 police officers to cover the summit, warning the union to desist from “causing any major incidents to undermine Fiji’s reputation.” On May 1, police arrested several workers of the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) for breaching the POA after they had gathered to protest the termination of many WAF employees. Also arrested were FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony, the secretaries of the FTA and nurses’ union, and an officer of the National Union of Workers. Anthony was held for 48 hours under the POA for organizing “unlawful gatherings” about the WAF dispute. On June 28, police again arrested Anthony, charging him with breach of the POA for false statements regarding the expiry of employment contracts for the WAF workers and other infractions. Anthony was later released on bail, but charges remain pending.

Trade unions reported additional antiunion government action, including unilateral voiding of collective-bargaining agreements with civil servants; lockouts and threats of retaliation in order to prevent unions from voting on industrial action; dismissal of union members; and a pattern of systematic harassment and intimidation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The Office of Labour Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the case. The government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties which were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports forced labor occurred, including forced labor of children (see section 7.c.). Forced labor and trafficking of children occurred in the field of domestic work. Southeast Asians were subject to forced labor in manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Education is compulsory until age 15; the Employment Relations Promulgation specifies that children ages 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 ages 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.

MEPIR 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. MEPIR maintains a database on child labor. Unannounced inspections are permitted within the informal sector, but inspectors must first seek the business owners’ permission before conducting the inspection. If there is reasonable cause to believe that prior notification of an inspection will prejudice the performance of the inspector’s duties, a police officer must accompany the inspector during the inspection.

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. Children engaged in hazardous work in agriculture and fishing. 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 https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination and stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal pay for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Workers may file legal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government did not provide data on the enforcement of antidiscrimination provisions. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and were, when enforced, sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and wages occurred against women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due in significant part to discrimination by employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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. The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights.

MEPIR’s Office of Labour Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of violations of minimum-wage orders. Convictions for a breach of the minimum-wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both.

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 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 decides 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.

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 parliamentary elections in late 2015.

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 report to their respective local government councils. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national police, local police, and maritime police.

Significant human rights issues included corruption and trafficking in persons.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: In August, after confirming outbreaks of dengue fever in Majuro and Ebeye, the government temporarily restricted movement from those locations to the outer islands to prevent the spread of the disease.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for the granting of 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 12 traditional clan chiefs.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national legislative elections took place on November 18 and were generally regarded as free and fair, although a lawsuit was filed in one electoral district alleging vote-buying and fraud. In September the Supreme Court ruled that, although a 2016 law banning postal ballots unconstitutionally disenfranchised overseas voters, the government would have insufficient time to institute a new system before the November elections, and thus delayed implementation of the order.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and 9 percent of members of the legislature, including the president, were women. Traditional attitudes of male dominance, women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies, however, created hurdles for women to obtain political qualifications or experience.

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 2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018) audit of the national government listed several deficiencies and material weaknesses in fighting corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office did not pursue any cases, and there were no indictments or notable corruption cases during the year, but credible evidence suggested problems with government officials colluding in goods being smuggled into the country.

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

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 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. Complainants can file for either a temporary or a permanent protective order, which requires that the alleged perpetrator keep a distance of 150 feet from the complainant. Temporary protective orders have a duration of 28 days. Permanent protective orders remain in effect until the complaint is withdrawn. The law also requires all citizens 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. 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, but human rights advocates reported hesitancy among victims to report these crimes to the police despite awareness-raising efforts. The only reported complaint of domestic violence during the year was later dropped by the accuser.

Various studies have suggested sexual violence of all types is common, but frequently unreported. A 2018 Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs gender equality report estimated 51 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The same study found 54 percent of domestic violence victims did not report the incident because of fear of retribution or a belief the abuse was justified. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the high rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed violence against women was justified in many situations. All 20 women who sought protective orders against abusive partners in court during the year eventually withdrew the requests.

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, partnered with government and other donors for its Weto in Mour: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service, which 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 unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. The law is generally not well enforced.

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 beginning at age five, the government did not strictly enforce the law. The law does not specify an age at which students may drop out of school. 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 for making such a report. Child abuse and neglect remained common.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. Marriage under 18 requires parental consent. 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: Sexual relations are illegal for boys under the age of 15 and for girls under the age of 16. 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 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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were few Jewish residents in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states 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.

There were no reports of violence against persons with 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 persons 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 which are sufficient to deter violations.

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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. 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 them 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 may 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. 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 which is not above the poverty line. The government has not effectively enforced the law. The minimum wage does not apply to casual workers or family employees.

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.

Occupational health and safety standards are generally appropriate. 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 board did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The board 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.

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. On March 5, national elections were held for the 14-seat unicameral Congress; 10 were elected in single-seat constituencies to two-year terms, and four (one per state) to four-year terms. Following the election, the Congress selected the new president, David W. Panuelo. Observers considered the election generally free and fair, and the transfer of power was uneventful.

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice 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.

Significant human rights issues included corruption in the government.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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 5 election for 14 congressional legislators who serve either four- (the at-large member from each of the four states) or two-year terms was generally free and fair. Following the election, Congress selected David W. Panuelo 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 one woman held a cabinet-level position (postmaster general) and another woman served as consul general at the country’s consulate in Guam. 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 four elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature. No women were elected in the March congressional election, and there were no female members of the other state legislatures.

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. It operated somewhat independently. The office had sufficient resources, but observers said it allowed the Transnational Crime Unit (which investigates corruption) to deteriorate. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year.

On July 29, Master Halbert, an official in the Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure (and the son-in-law of former president Peter Christian), was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a foreign court for his role in a money-laundering scheme involving bribes from a U.S. company to secure engineering and project management contracts from the Micronesian federal government. As of November the country itself, however, had not charged anybody involved in the scheme.

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 Abuses 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 often 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. Pohnpei State police said they would not arrest anyone in a domestic violence scenario if the parents of both people involved in the altercation were present. 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.

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. Examples of discrimination against women included many instances of women being forced to stop their higher educational pursuits once they become pregnant. Women were also discouraged from returning to school once the child was born.

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 for boys and 16 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 law sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for child trafficking. The states’ statutory rape laws apply to children age 13 or younger in Yap and Kosrae, 15 or younger in Pohnpei, and 17 or younger in Chuuk. 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. On March 6, a local taxi driver was convicted by the Supreme Court of delivering underage girls to men who forced them into paid sex.

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.

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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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 and other treatment free 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 may 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 effectively 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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 HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

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 above the official estimate for the poverty income level. There is no other minimum wage.

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. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

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.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional, federal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections took place in 2017, and the People’s National Congress party won a majority in the 111-seat unicameral parliament, led by former prime minister Peter O’Neill. In May, O’Neill resigned, and parliament elected James Marape prime minister. In some parts of the country, electoral contests involved widespread violence, fraud, bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police. The Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, and reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police; acts of government corruption; the existence of criminal defamation laws; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government frequently failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was pervasive.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists complained of intimidation aimed at influencing coverage by agents of members of parliament and other government figures. Self-censorship by journalists was common, especially when reporting on contentious political events.

Freedom of Expression: The government generally respected freedom of speech, although some activists reported the intimidating presence of unmarked vehicles outside of their homes. Government critics on social media reported intimidation and threats. In March 2018, acting on a complaint from a member of parliament, police arrested a man for alleging on social media that the parliamentarian paid bribes to voters during the 2017 election. The same parliamentarian supported a government proposal to ban Facebook for one month to allow the government time to investigate fake accounts. On May 28, the communications minister announced that the government would implement such a ban, but the new government dropped the proposal in June after civil society groups protested.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media members alleged that politicians offered journalists and editors bribes with the intent of buying favorable coverage. On August 19, the president of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea (MCPNG) and the news director of government-owned television station EMTV, Neville Choi, was fired at the government’s direction after Choi allowed EMTV news to cover soldiers protesting outside of the office of the prime minister. The government later denied the link to Choi’s dismissal. On August 22, Choi was reinstated in response to public pressure on EMTV and the government.

In November 2018 EMTV suspended senior journalist Scott Waide for publishing reports that were “not favorable” to the station. EMTV claimed the decision to suspend Waide was taken by Kumul Telikom Holdings Board, which controls EMTV. After a week of national and international outcry, including from the MCPNG, Waide was reinstated later that month. Minister for Public Enterprise and State Investments William Marra Duma, however, said that an inquiry into the suspension would be launched and that Waide would be investigated for “displaying lack of news judgment.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and in some cases violence by police and supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. Multiple media outlets asserted their journalists, photographers, and videographers experienced intimidation attempts from some parliamentarians and their associates during the year. In May police assaulted a journalist as he tried to take photos and notes at the scene of a car accident. Social media reported that the driver was someone of high standing and known to police officers. As of September no action had been taken against the officers.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and prosecution of offenses including defamatory publication of material concerning another person.

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 remained limited but continued to grow through the increasing use of mobile phones. The growth of internet access resulted in increased use of social media and blogs to discuss and develop evidence of abuse of power and corruption in government.

The law prohibits using electronic systems to incite any form of unrest (called cyber-unrest). Responsibility for enforcing the law lies with police. The law calls for a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 50,000 kina (PGK) ($14,700) for violations.

Media continued to report on five cases of persons charged in 2018 but not convicted because the courts, police, and relevant government agencies lacked guidance on how to implement the law. The charges related to character defamation on social media. Between June and September, three of the cases were dismissed while two of those charged were free on bail pending court interpretation. In July a senior official of a government agency was arrested and charged for cyber-harassment via WhatsApp messaging. He posted PGK 5,000 ($1,470) bail pending a court appearance. The Department of Information and Communication and the National Information and Communication Regulation Authority conducted workshops with police and courts during the year to clarify how to implement the law.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Public demonstrations required police approval and 14 days’ advance notice. If public demonstrations occurred without official approval, police normally requested crowds to disperse. If that failed, and if violence or public disturbances ensued, police used tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse crowds.

In April 2018 police shot and killed four demonstrators in Madang who were participating in a protest march. As of October no officers were charged in the killings, and police stated a lack of cooperation from those at the scene hampered their investigation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were sometimes subjected to abuse by security forces and the local population. In August the government opened a new detention facility, Bomana, in Port Moresby for asylum seekers who had their claims rejected or who were transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby. Refugee and legal groups noted that asylum seekers detained at the Bomana detention facility were unable to speak to lawyers and doctors, blocking their urgent medical evacuations to Australia. Several others were detained after being approved for medical transfers and lost communication with their lawyers.

The psychiatric institution at the Bomana facility responsible for the mental-health needs of nonrefugees who were transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby reportedly was closed. In September, ICRC observers were reportedly denied access to nonrefugees in the facility.

From January to March, an independent health advice panel overseeing medical transfer for asylum seekers languishing in the Manus Island offshore detention facility reported that 472 mental-health consultations and 375 specialist consultations were performed at the East Lorengau refugee transit center on Manus Island. Of these, 17 were admitted to Lorengau general hospital for mental-health conditions.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Legislation provides a refugee status determination process, under which those approved are eligible to apply for a refugee visa and certificate of identity. The law allows persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province (formerly Irian Jaya) to apply for citizenship without having to pay the usual fee.

The government maintained two agreements with Australia on refugees. The first allowed Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus Island (see section 1.c.) for processing only. The second, which superseded the first, allows refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the country under the same rules that apply to all other foreign nationals applying for citizenship, which require applicants to have resided permanently in the country for eight years. Refugees brought into the country under the latter agreement were exempted from paying the PGK 10,000 ($2,940) application fee and were exempted from a work permit requirement. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups in the country raised questions about the constitutionality of both agreements.

In 2017 Australian authorities closed the Manus Island Refugee Processing Center while refugees and asylum seekers were living in it. Hundreds of detainees, however, refused to leave the center. In August the East Lorengau refugee transit center was closed, and almost all remaining refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island were transferred to Port Moresby.

Australian authorities and UNHCR trained the ICA on how to make refugee status determinations. ICA officers were responsible for processing refugee claims made by those on Manus Island. As of October more than 400 persons determined to be genuine refugees were accommodated in hotels in Port Moresby. Authorities determined 53 individuals to be nonrefugees and placed in the Bomana holding facility in Port Moresby approximately 30 who refused to participate in the status-determination process. Five persons remained in Manus awaiting court appearances for criminal offenses, and another 598 had accepted the voluntary departure package, which in some cases included as much as $25,000 in cash, offered by Australian and Papua New Guinea authorities. The remainder were either deported, sent to Australia for medical treatment, settled in Papua New Guinea or the United States, or had died.

The ICA worked with the support of international organizations and NGOs to provide training, job matching, and temporary financial support to help refugees establish themselves in the country. Resettlement efforts were problematic, however, because several refugees who tried to resettle in the country became victims of crime.

Durable Solutions: The national refugee policy provides a way for Indonesian Papuans to apply for Papua New Guinean citizenship without having to pay the PGK 10,000 ($2,940) citizenship fee. The ICA estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Indonesian Papuans lived in Papua New Guinea. Under the policy 1,259 Indonesian Papuans received citizenship certificates in 2017, more than 200 were awarded in 2018, and there was no report of any granted as of September.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province who may not qualify as refugees. Approximately 3,000 persons, classified by the government as “border crossers,” lived in villages adjacent to the border with Indonesia, and approximately 2,400 lived in urban areas, including Port Moresby.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2017. Local government elections, initially scheduled for 2018 but postponed due to a lack of funding from the national government to the Electoral Commission, took place in July. There were reports of election-related deaths, violence, and polling fraud during the local-government elections. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the 2017 general election. There were also many incidents of violence and destruction of property, primarily in the Highlands, during and after the voting period, causing the deaths of at least 40 persons, including four police officers. The Electoral Commission announced in parliament the winner of the last seat (Southern Highlands), two months after voting concluded. According to media reports, the announcement of the winner set off a new wave of violence and unrest, which sent the town of Mendi into a “state of chaos” as supporters of the losing candidate destroyed and damaged local offices and businesses. In June 2018 Mendi was again in chaos after the national court dismissed an election petition from the losing candidate. His supporters burned a commercial aircraft and the national courthouse in Mendi.

An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges, which were partly to blame for significant problems with the general-election voter registration process. A large number of voters’ names were missing from voter rolls, which delayed voting in multiple provinces. The campaign period was competitive and broadly peaceful, and media coverage of the election was robust and largely unrestricted. Citizens turned out in large numbers to cast their votes, although there were variations in voting practices across the country. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and group voting occurred. All observer groups expressed disappointment the government did not implement recommendations provided after the 2012 national elections, which included an immediate and thorough update of voter rolls.

After the general election, the national court registered 77 election petitions that alleged illegal practices. By September more than 70 had been withdrawn or completed. Four petitions resulted in court-ordered ballot recounts, of which to date only two have been conducted pending funding availability.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no restrictions on party registration, and 45 parties contested the 2017 national elections. Several parties alleged that sitting members of parliament used government resources for campaigning, although the lack of transparency in accounting for funds made such claims hard to verify. The Ombudsman Commission issued a directive to freeze public funds controlled by parliamentarians starting when the campaign officially opened in 2017. The commission reported after the election, however, that unusually large amounts of money were withdrawn from these accounts in the 30 days before the freeze went into effect.

In some areas tribal leaders determined which candidate a tribe would support and influenced the entire tribe to vote for that candidate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation by women or members of minorities in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected to the 111-seat parliament, and 5 percent of candidates were female (167 of 3,332). The political participation of women was often limited, since there were social expectations for them to vote along tribal and family lines. The Electoral Commission instructed polling officials to create separate lines for women in order to allow them to vote more freely. There were five female judges in the national and supreme courts, and the chief magistrate and deputy chief magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. Minorities generally did not face limitations in running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; the government, however, did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at all levels and in all organs of government was a serious problem due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and misuse of public resources by officials to meet traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The committee generally operated independently of government influence, but a lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission.

Corruption: In July the new acting deputy police commissioner, David Manning, announced he was reopening an investigation into the Manumanu land scandal, in which a company belonging to family members of a government minister received PGK 46.6 million ($13.7 million) for land that it did not legally own. In 2017 then prime minister Peter O’Neill had suspended two cabinet ministers, four department heads, the state solicitor, and other senior government executives for their involvement in this land scandal. Outcry from the general public and customary owners of the land led the prime minister to announce a commission of inquiry, but no report was released, and in August 2018 the then police commissioner announced that police were dropping an investigation into the deal, asserting they found no evidence of wrongdoing. Both ministers implicated in the scandal retained their portfolios.

The new police commissioner fired police officials at all levels, including the commissioner, two deputy commissioners, and three officers, in an effort to restore credibility and accountability. Using social media the minister urged popular and political support for a cultural change that respected due process, rule of law, and equal justice.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. While domestic human rights groups did not face threats from the government, civil society in the country remained weak and disorganized.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating alleged misconduct and defective administration by governmental bodies, alleged discriminatory practices by any person or body, and alleged misconduct in office by leaders under the leadership code. Staffing constraints often caused delays in investigations and thus in the completion and release of reports.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a sentence ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence, was a serious and widespread problem. In a 2015 World Health Organization report, approximately 70 percent of women reported they had experienced rape or sexual assault. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women had been beaten by their partners. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, most women did not report rape or domestic violence to authorities. In June a man raped and beat his wife to death. He posted bail pending a court hearing.

The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation to victims in lieu of trials for rapists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that victims and their families pursue tribal remedies, including compensation, in preference to procedures in official courts. Although the law criminalizes family violence and imposes maximum penalties of two years’ imprisonment and PGK 5,000 ($1,470) in fines in an effort to end the cultural practice of compensation, it is not enforced.

Police committed sexual violence (including against women in detention, see section 1.c.), and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare.

There were 17 family and sexual violence units in police stations across the country to provide victims with protection, assistance through the judicial process, and medical care. Police leadership in some provinces led to improved services for victims of gender-based violence. Nevertheless, comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were lacking in most of the country. This lack of services, along with societal and family pressure, often forced women back into violent and abusive homes.

Those convicted of rape received prison sentences, but authorities apprehended and prosecuted few rapists. The willingness of some communities to settle rape cases through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution also made the crime difficult to combat.

As of October, two of the five shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, which were often full and had to turn away women in need of counseling and shelter, closed due to budgetary constraints. The situation was worse outside the capital, where small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained shelters.

Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged an increasing number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husband or another woman.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued. This contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experience harassment in public locations and the workplace. In Port Moresby the government and UN Women worked together to provide women-only public buses to reduce instances of sexual harassment on public transportation.

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

Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life.

Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law, however, requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposition of the sentence, and judges frequently annulled such village court sentences.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth to a citizen parent. Birth registration often did not occur immediately due to the remote locations in which many births took place. Failure to register did not generally affect access to public services such as education or health care.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 10. There were many complaints the government did not adequately fund education, leading to overcrowded classrooms and too few teachers. Some schools did not receive promised government education subsidies and reportedly closed as a result. Many schools charged fees despite the official free-education policy, and one-third of children completed primary school. Primary and secondary education completion rates tended to be slightly higher for boys than for girls. Recent reports confirmed that girls were at high risk of domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment in schools, commercial exploitation, and HIV infection, which posed serious threats to their education.

Child Abuse: In July the NGO Save the Children released the results of a small-scale study showing that an estimated 2.8 million children, or 75 percent of the child population, faced physical or emotional violence, and 50 percent faced sexual violence or family violence in the home. Child protection systems, especially in rural areas, were not adequate to meet the needs of children facing abuse. The NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that children made up 50 percent of sexual violence cases referred to clinics. Other studies found that only the most egregious forms of sexual and physical abuse of children were reported to police, because family violence is viewed as a domestic matter.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. There is a younger legal marriage age (16 for boys and 14 for girls) with parental and court consent.

Customary and traditional practices allow marriage of children as young as age 12, and early marriage was common in many traditional, isolated rural communities. Child brides frequently were taken as additional wives or given as brides to pay family debts and often were used as domestic servants. Child brides were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The maximum penalty for violators is 25 years’ imprisonment or, if the victim is younger than age 12, life imprisonment. Child pornography is illegal; penalties range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, but enforcement remained a problem. There were cases of sex trafficking of children in urban areas, including of minors working in bars and nightclubs. There were reports of exploitation of children through the production of pornography and that both local and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking. Although the law criminalizes child pornography, it does not specifically prohibit using, procuring, and offering a child for pornographic performances. NGOs reported increased prevalence of child sex trafficking.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community in Port Moresby. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and provision of other state services. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities experienced an underresourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. Those with certain types of disabilities, such as amputees, attended school with children without disabilities, while those who were blind or deaf attended segregated schools. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited.

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family structure (see section 7.d.).

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

Consensual same-sex sexual relations and acts of “gross indecency” between males are illegal. The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual relations is 14 years’ imprisonment and for acts of gross indecency between male persons (a misdemeanor), three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions during the year. There were reports of societal violence and discrimination against such persons, and they were vulnerable to societal stigmatization, which may have led to underreporting.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of government discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; there was, however, a strong societal stigma attached to HIV/AIDS infection, which prevented some persons from seeking HIV/AIDS-related services.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Press reported vigilante killings and abuses continued to increase and became more common in urban areas. Many killings were related to alleged involvement in sorcery and witchcraft and typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In April, six men received 25-year sentences for the killing of a man they suspected had killed a woman through sorcery. The government Sorcery National Action Plan established in 2016 lacked funding to carry out its mandate fully, and despite efforts by some provincial governments, police often lacked the capacity to stop killings of alleged sorcerers. In January 2018, 97 persons were convicted in a mass trial for eight sorcery-related murders that took place in 2014; eight persons were sentenced to death, and the remainder received life sentences.

Church leaders and policy makers observed that the number of persons reportedly tortured and killed for alleged sorcery was increasing. Many believed perpetrators used sorcery-related violence to mask violence against vulnerable members of the community, including women, or for revenge. Reliable data on the matter remained elusive with estimates ranging from 30 to 500 attacks resulting in death per year. In April 2018 eight police officers, including their provincial police commander, killed a man and assaulted several others whom they accused of practicing sorcery. All eight officers were fired from the police force, charged, and posted bail pending a court date.

Long-standing animosities among isolated tribes, a persistent cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs, and the lack of law enforcement were factors underlying frequent violent tribal conflict in highland areas. During the year tribal fighting continued in highland provinces. The number of deaths and IDPs resulting from such conflicts continued to rise due to the increased availability of modern weapons (see section 2.e.). In July up to 30 persons, including pregnant women and children, were killed in an ambush and retaliatory massacre by warring clans in the mountains of Hela Province, prompting a national and international outcry against what local and foreign observers termed a slaughter outside even the eroded rules of tribal warfare. Observers said factors beyond traditional rivalries driving the massacre included resentment at broken promises of royalties from nearby gas fields, distress following the 2018 earthquake, deteriorating basic services, and the availability of mobile phones and high-powered guns trafficked across the West Papua border.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the public and private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government has limited influence over trade union formation and registration. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the labor force, most of whom were engaged in small-scale farming.

The law requires unions to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. An unregistered union has no legal standing and thus cannot operate effectively. Although the law provides for the right to strike, the government may, and often did, intervene in labor disputes, forcing arbitration before workers could legally strike or refusing to grant permission for a secret ballot vote on strike action. Some union leaders complained that the Labor Department’s refusal to allow for votes on strike action constituted undue government influence. By law the government has discretionary power to intervene in collective bargaining by canceling arbitration awards or declaring wage agreements void when deemed contrary to government policy.

The law prohibits both retaliation against strikers and antiunion discrimination by employers against union leaders, members, and organizers. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. In cases of retaliation or unlawful dismissal for union activity, the court may fine an employer and may order the reinstatement of the employee and reimbursement of any lost wages. If an employer fails to comply with such directives, the court may order imprisonment or fines until the employer complies.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. With two labor inspectors per province and inadequate resources, inspectors usually monitored and enforced the law on an ad hoc basis. The Labor Department did not always act to prevent retaliation against strikers or protect workers from antiunion discrimination, which remained widespread in the logging sector and in state-owned enterprises. Observers attributed its ineffectiveness to a lack of sufficient manpower and resources.

Unions were generally independent of both the government and political parties, whose influence diminished from previous years. Employees of some government-owned enterprises went on strike on several occasions during the year, primarily to protest against privatization policies, terminations, and appointments of managers or board members, or in pay disputes. In most cases the strikes were brief due to temporary agreements reached between the government and workers.

Workers in both the public and private sectors engaged in collective bargaining. The Labor Department and courts were involved in dispute settlement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties are sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Logging and mining sites primarily operated in remote regions with negligible government oversight, and authorities did not make efforts to identify forced labor victims at these sites. The law allows officials, on order of a judge or magistrate, to apprehend a noncitizen crewmember of a foreign-registered ship who fails to rejoin the crewmember’s ship during its time in the country. The crewmember is placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of the country in which the ship is registered (or, if no such representation exists, the ship’s owner or representative) in order to return the crewmember to the ship. Observers noted this practice might prevent foreign workers from reporting or escaping situations of forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and local women and children were subjected to forced labor as domestic servants, as beggars or street vendors, and in the tourism sector (also see section 7.c.). Foreign and local men were subjected to forced labor, including through debt bondage, in the logging, mining, and fishing sectors. There also were reports of foreign workers, particularly from China and other Pacific nations, entering the country with fraudulent documents and being subjected to forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. By law the minimum working age is 16, although children ages 14 to 15 may be employed if the employer is satisfied that the child is no longer attending school. In addition children ages 14 to 15 may work aboard ships. The minimum age for hazardous work is 16, but the government has not identified a list of which occupations are hazardous. There are no provisions prohibiting children ages 16 to 18 from engaging in hazardous work. Children ages 11 to 16 may be employed in light work in a family business or enterprise, provided they have parental permission, medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. This type of employment was rare, except in subsistence agriculture. Work by children ages 11 to 16 must not interfere with school attendance, and children younger than 16 may not be employed in working conditions dangerous to their health. The law does not, however, specify the types of activities in which light work is permitted nor the number of hours per week this work may be undertaken. The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing child labor law provisions. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

There was a high prevalence of child labor in urban and rural areas, including in hazardous occupations. Children were seen directing parking vehicles and selling cigarettes, food, and DVDs on the street and in grocery stores throughout the country, sometimes near mining and logging camps. There were reports of boys as young as 12 being exploited as “market taxis” in urban areas, carrying extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may have been victims of forced labor. There were also reports of children engaging in mining activities, including prospectors forcing children to work in alluvial gold mining.

Children worked mainly in subsistence agriculture, cash crop farming, and livestock herding. This included seasonal work in plantations (for coffee, tea, copra, and palm oil) in the formal and informal rural economies.

Some children (primarily girls) worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes, often to repay a family debt to the “host” family, in situations that sometimes constituted domestic servitude. In some cases the host was a relative who informally “adopted” the child. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No law prohibits discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The constitution bars discrimination based on disability, but the government did not take measures to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination. The law bans discrimination based on gender for employment and wages in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The law explicitly precludes women from employment in certain occupations, allows the government to recruit either men or women for certain civil service positions, and discriminates by gender in eligibility for certain job-related allowances.

Discrimination occurred based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. For example, the International Labor Organization noted there were concerns regarding discrimination against certain ethnic groups, including Asian workers and entrepreneurs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law regulates minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holiday leave, and overtime work. The law limits the workweek to 42 hours per week in urban areas and 44 hours per week in rural areas, and it provides for premium pay for overtime work. Labor law does not apply to workers in the informal sector.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law regarding minimum wage and work hours and occupational safety and health. It sets occupational safety and health standards and is required by law to inspect work sites on a regular basis. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Workers are entitled to wages while the inspection takes place, although the law does not specify further protection for employees who seek to remove themselves from conditions they deem hazardous. The number of occupational health and safety and industrial relations inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. In the case of a second or subsequent, continuing offense, the employer is liable for a fine for each day or part of each day for which the offense continued. When an employer fails to obey an order, direction, or requirement, the court may order imprisonment of the offender until the directive is obeyed.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health law and regulations were common in the logging, mining, agricultural, and construction sectors due to the government’s lack of enforcement capacity. The logging industry in particular was known for extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including cramped and unhygienic worker housing. Workers in the mining sector were also subjected to hazardous and exploitative conditions, including exposure to toxic metals such as mercury.

According to World Bank data, 90 percent of the 2.9 million workers labored in rural areas, where law enforcement and monitoring were weak.

Samoa

Executive Summary

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Although the unicameral parliament is elected by universal suffrage, only matai (heads of extended families) may be members. In 2016 voters elected a new parliament, confirming Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in office. The elections were free and fair on the day, but the matai requirement and the questionable disqualification of candidates caused some observers to question the fairness of the outcome.

The national police, under the Ministry of Police, maintain internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy at the village government level; criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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 speech and press. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel may be prosecuted as a criminal offense. The law was enacted in late 2017 largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media regard the law as an obstacle to press freedom.

In February, Malele Paulo, an Australia-based Samoan blogger, travelled to the country to attend his mother’s funeral. Paulo was arrested and charged with criminal libel for posting accusations that the prime minister played a part in the assassination of a fellow cabinet minister in 1999, along with other accusations. In July, Paulo pled guilty to the criminal libel charges at an initial hearing, but later withdrew his plea. In October, Paulo was sentenced to 7 weeks in prison. Paulo has also been charged in an August conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister but that case had not gone to trial as of December.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports 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. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were reports some village councils banished individuals or families from villages.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status, but the government has not yet established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum or refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution 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. The government repealed the Electoral Act 1963 passing a new Electoral Act 2019. It combines all amendments to the repealed Act along with a requirement that all citizens 21 years and older register as voters and vote in national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Electoral Act 2019 was tested in a by-election that took place in March. The Electoral Commissioner issued public notices regarding legal actions that are to be brought against those who did not register or did not vote. Observers considered the 2016 general election free and fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled three seats, not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election, plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on grounds including cash and noncash bribery, during the campaign. Of the six, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one for lack of evidence. Bribery, village pressure, and the threat of countersuits were reportedly cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution gives all citizens older than age 21 the right to vote; however, only persons with a matai title, the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families, may run for parliament or serve on village councils. Matai are appointed, not elected, to the councils.

In addition to the restrictions favoring matai, the 2016 election was the first to require all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run. The law sought to ensure that candidates fulfilled cultural and other commitments to their village and could not just use their matai status or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes. The amendment led to a number of court petitions and the disqualification of five candidates deemed not to have met the requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since monotaga is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) in different villages. Some saw such subjective disqualifications as human rights abuses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Four women won seats in parliament outright in 2016. A 50th seat was added to parliament to ensure that the constitutionally mandated 10 percent female representation in parliament was observed. The seat went to the unsuccessful woman candidate with the highest percentage of votes in her constituency. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10 percent of matai were women. Of the five female members of parliament, Fiame Naomi Mataafa is deputy prime minister, a first for the country.

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 effectively. The maximum penalty for corruption is 14 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of government corruption. In May the contract of the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration was terminated following his suspension in March when the Public Service Commission (PSC) filed six charges against him. One of the charges included a breach of the Public Service Act, based on an allegation that the CEO unlawfully authorized the release of original Lands and Titles Court files relating to the minister of justice. The CEO was terminated, however, not for the removal of court files, but for inappropriate behavior towards female employees and alleged misconduct in relation to other ministry employees, issues that came to light during the PSC investigation.

The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes criminal corruption cases on behalf of the PSC. The Ombudsman’s Office and the PSC operated effectively. The Ombudsman’s Office included academics and other members of civil society among the members of its commissions of inquiry.

Corruption: There was public discontent throughout the year at significant delays in the submission of annual audit reports to parliament and the lack of punitive action. For example, the latest publicly available report of the controller and auditor general’s reports to parliament was for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The reports for the three subsequent years were tabled in parliament in March.

Financial Disclosure: Although there are no financial disclosure laws, codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government owned corporations encouraged public officials to follow similar disclosure.

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

A number of 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: Observers considered the Office of the Ombudsman generally effective and able to operate free from government or political party interference. The government usually adopted its recommendations. The Office of the Ombudsman also houses the National Human Rights Institute.

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

Women

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 generally 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. In one village the fine is WST$2,000 ($800) per offense.

The government acknowledged that rape and domestic abuse were of significant concern. The National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, released in September 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 combatting 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.

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

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.

Children

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.

The government aggressively prosecuted reported cases of child abuse.

Press reports indicated an increase in child abuse reports, 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.

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 woman is younger than age 16 or a man 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. 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.

Anti-Semitism

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 the country 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were no new reports of bans on setting up Chinese-owned retail shops on customary land within villages during the year; four villages banned Chinese-owned shops in 2017. These actions followed the rapid spread of ethnic Chinese-owned retail shops throughout Apia and into rural villages. The bans apply only on village-owned land (approximately 80 percent of land in the country), not to government or freehold land. During the year, however, there were two attacks on Chinese businesses; both involved violent assault of the Chinese owners and employees, resulting in one death. Many Chinese and ethnic Samoans feel Chinese are being targeted partly because of their ethnicity. There were no similar attacks on ethnically Samoan-owned businesses.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, 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. Society publicly recognized the transgender Fa’afafine community; however, members of the community reported instances of social discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. There are certain restrictions on the right to strike for government workers, imposed principally for reasons of public safety. The law states that a public sector employee who engages in a strike or any other industrial action is considered “dismissed from…employment.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, such as contract conditions that restrict free association. The law addresses a range of fundamental rights and includes the establishment of a national tripartite forum that serves as the governing body for labor and employment matters in the country.

The government effectively enforced laws on unionization, and the government generally respected freedom of association. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Public Service Association functioned as a union for all government workers. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.

Workers exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Public Service Association engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures were in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose. The government has the right to dissolve unions without going to court, a provision of the law criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

There were no reports of strikes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. There is an exception in the constitution for service required by local custom. A key feature of the matai system is that non-matai men perform work in their village in service to their families, church, or the village as a whole. Most persons did so willingly, but the matai may compel those who do not wish to work, including children.

The government did effectively enforce the law. The law states that forced labor is punishable by penalties sufficient to deter violations. Aside from the cultural exception noted above and street vending by children, forced labor was not considered a problem. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor received no complaints and found no violations of forced labor during inspections conducted.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The ILO noted that the law does not effectively prohibit the procuring or offering of children between the ages of 16 and 18 for the production of indecent materials. The law also does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The law prohibits employing children ages 12-14 except in “safe and light work.” The government issued a public notice clarifying the hazardous work occupations prohibited for children under age 18.

The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on family farms. The law prohibits any student from engaging in light or heavy industrial activity during school hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The law restricts vending by school-aged children (younger than age 14) if it interferes with their school attendance, participation in school activities, or educational development. This law is effectively enforced in the formal economy, but only minimally enforced in the informal economy in areas such as child street vending, which takes place at all hours of the day and night. Children frequently sold goods and food on street corners. The problem of child street vending attracted significant media coverage and public outcry. There were no reliable statistics available on the extent of child labor, but it occurred largely in the informal sector.

The extent to which children had to work on village farms varied by village, although anecdotal accounts indicated the practice was common. Younger children primarily did yard work and light work such as gathering fruit, nuts, and plants. Some boys began working on plantations as teenagers, helping to gather crops such as coconuts and caring for animals. Some children reportedly had domestic service employment.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination, direct or indirect, against an employee or an applicant for employment based on ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, religion, political opinion, national extraction, sexual orientation, social origin, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, real or perceived HIV status, and disability.

The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry received one complaint regarding unfair hiring practices during the year. The hiring and recruiting process for the private sector is outside of the scope of the Labor and Employment Relations Act. No cases drew public attention.

To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy and training programs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There were separate minimum wage scales for the private and public sectors. Both minimum wages were below the official estimate of the poverty income level for a household. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Approximately 75 percent of the working population worked in the subsistence economy and had no formal employment.

The law covers private and public sector workers differently. For the private sector, the law specifies overtime pay at time and a half, with double time for work on Sunday and public holidays. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but authorities give compensatory time off for overtime work.

The law establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the labor ministry is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers nonworkers who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. The law contains provisions for the identification and assessment of, and risk control for, workplace hazards and hazardous substances. In January the Labor Ministry issued a public notice clarifying the list of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Safety laws do not generally apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai or work in a family enterprise. Government employees have coverage under different and more stringent regulations, which the Public Service Commission enforced adequately.

Independent observers reported that the Labor Ministry did not strictly enforce safety laws, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. It investigated work accidents when it received reports. The number of inspectors was generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Many agricultural workers had inadequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs sought to address these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to some agricultural workers.

The Labor Ministry investigates any potential labor law violations in response to complaints. The police and education ministries may assist if needed; the PSC handles all government labor matters.

The commissioner of labor investigates reported cases of hazardous workplaces. Workers are legally able to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 3 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) is responsible for internal and external security and reports to the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services; Australia and New Zealand support the RSIP. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: pervasive government corruption; laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. 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. The internet was available and widely used in urban areas, although 78 percent of the country’s population lived in rural areas and did not have internet access.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

After Prime Minister Sogavare’s April election, a youth group applied for a protest permit, which police denied on the grounds of public safety. Despite the lack of authorization, groups of primarily young men staged violent protests, causing property damage in the capital. Police riot-control units dispersed the protesters with tear gas. In September multiple religious and civil society organizations in Honiara applied for permits to demonstrate in favor of continued diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but law enforcement officials denied the requests on public safety grounds. The government declined to grant any permit outside of Malaita Province for demonstrations following its September 16 decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing.

Freedom of Association

Local media reported the government threatened civil society organizations with deregistration in response to their petition calling on Prime Minister Sogavare to step down, following the government’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no known refugees in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the April 3 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first since the full withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Electoral law requires all candidates to present party certificates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and four female permanent secretaries in the 25 government ministries. There was one female judge on the High Court. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

A 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provides it with investigative and prosecutorial powers. The commission is responsible for implementing the National Anticorruption Strategy, but as of September was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration. “Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

“Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established in the constitution with a mandate to examine public accounts and national property and to report to parliament.

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In March a court sentenced Henry Murray, former permanent secretary for infrastructure and development, to four years imprisonment for corruption after he was convicted of misappropriating Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) 700,000 ($83,000) for personal use.

Police corruption was not a serious problem during the year. Observers criticized some police officers for being more loyal to their respective ethnic group or wantok (extended family) than to the country as a whole.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) investigates misconduct involving members of parliament or senior civil servants. If the LCC finds conclusive evidence of misconduct, it sends the matter to the Office of Public Prosecution, which may proceed with legal charges. The LCC chairperson and two part-time commissioners constitute a tribunal with power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply maximum fines of SBD 5,000 ($593) for members of parliament or senior civil servants.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an Office of the Ombudsman with power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. Although independent, a lack of resources limited its effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of SBD 30,000 ($3,560). Violence against women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.

Police often charged persons suspected of domestic violence and assault against women. As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.

With donor funding and support, the government conducted training workshops for local court officials on how to process cases of domestic violence and rape. The training focused on how to apply relevant laws and policies and use referral networks to support victims.

For victims of domestic violence, the law provides for access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community if they cannot return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments remained common and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was not illegal and was a widespread problem.

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

Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not enforce equal rights laws effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents. The law does not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in the denial of public services to children.

Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. Government policy was to cover operational costs for children age six to 15 years to attend school, but it rarely covered all costs and allowed schools to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash or labor. These additional costs prevented some children from attending school.

Child Abuse: Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes the courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.

The government did not effectively enforce laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect (see section 7.c.). The law criminalizes domestic violence including violence against children, but there was poor public awareness, and the law was not well enforced.

Early and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15 years. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 15, the penalty is 15 years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was age 16 or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors younger than age 15 and between 15 and 18 for prostitution is punishable as a criminal offense. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as age 12, but in most cases official charges were not filed.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, or storing of sexually exploitative materials involving children. Girls and boys were exploited in prostitution and sexual servitude. Trafficking of children carries a maximum sentence of 25 years’ imprisonment.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. In 2018 parliament passed measures that require electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to access education. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.

There were very limited government facilities or services for persons with mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of the nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

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

“Sodomy” is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and for the latter five years. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons under these provisions during the year, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.

There are no specific antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may hinder some from reporting.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Sorcery-related violence was reported in 2018. Such violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly.

In 2018 then prime minister Houenipwela launched the second phase of the UN Peacebuilding Project aimed at consolidating peace, stability, and social cohesion. With support from the UN Peacebuilding Project, the government hosted stakeholder dialogues targeting women and youth as key agents for peacebuilding efforts.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. A notice to the government 28 days prior to a strike is required for strikes to be legal. The government has discretionary power in relation to cancelation and suspension of registration of unions, a power which can take effect even in the case of judicial review.

The government prohibits strikes by civil servants in essential services, but there are procedures in place to provide these workers due process and protect their rights. The government defines essential services as including, but not limited to, the health, public security, aviation, marine, immigration, and disaster-relief sectors. The law does not provide for the rights of workers in the informal sector to organize or to collective bargaining. In addition the law places limits on the rights of workers to act as union representatives based on age, literacy, criminal record, and membership in more than one union.

Government enforcement of the law was inconsistent; the small penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The penalty for antiunion discrimination was not effective, for example, because employers could afford to pay the fine and easily replace workers. Penalties for illegal strikes, on the other hand, served as a deterrent for employees to strike.

Collective bargaining agreements determined wages and conditions of employment in the formal economy. Disputes between labor and management not settled between the two sides were referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. While the panel deliberates, employees have protection from arbitrary dismissal or lockout. The three-member panel, composed of a chairperson appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to associate and bargain collectively, although employers did not always respect these rights. Since only a small percentage of the workforce was in formal-sector employment, employers could easily replace workers if disputes were not resolved quickly.

In 2018 the Solomon Islands Nurses Association issued a strike notice to the government for not honoring a 2008 agreement to improve working conditions. The government agreed to review the agreement, and the union withdrew the strike notice. In February nurses threatened to strike again after the government failed to honor the understanding from 2018.

The Workers Union of Solomon Islands actively negotiated with private employers during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court sentence or order. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The immigration act prohibits transnational forced labor, and the penalties are sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for forced labor which is not transnational are sufficient to deter violations.

The government typically relied on labor inspectors to report on any instances of forced or compulsory labor during regularly scheduled routine inspections; however, there were not enough inspectors or resources to enforce the laws effectively. The government continued its efforts to monitor and investigate operations at logging companies, although it did not initiate any prosecutions.

There were reports of children and adults forced to work in logging camps and of children in domestic servitude or service industries. Local and foreign fishermen reported situations indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages, severe living conditions, violence, and limited food supply on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s territorial waters and ports.

Also see the Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits labor by children younger than age 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents, or other labor approved by the commissioner of labor. Children younger than age 18 may not work at night in any industry without specific written permission from the labor commissioner. Girls younger than age 18 may not work on a ship or underground in mines; boys may work on a ship or underground in a mine if they are at least 16 years old, provided they have a medical certificate attesting they are fit for such work. The law bars children younger than age 15 from work in industry or on ships, except aboard training ships for educational purposes. The law does not limit the number of hours a child can work, nor does it clearly set forth a minimum age for hazardous work or delineate the type of work considered hazardous for all children. Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. The law does not specifically outlaw the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the resources devoted to investigating child labor cases were inadequate to investigate or deter violations. The law provides for penalties that are insufficient to deter violations.

Children worked in agriculture, fishing, alluvia mining, as domestic servants, cooks, and in logging camps where conditions often were poor. For example, young girls worked long hours and in isolation as domestic workers in mining camps. In some cases these conditions could amount to forced labor (see section 7.b.). There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children). Children also assisted in cultivating, distributing, and selling local drugs such as betel nut or marijuana. They were at risk of physical abuse, mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, and robbery.

According to the Solomon Islands Demographic and Health Survey, 2 percent of children age five to 11 years and 12 percent of children age 12 to 14 were engaged in paid labor. Paid child labor was more common among female children in urban areas and all children living in rural areas.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No laws prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. By regulation public service officers should ensure their workplace is “free from harassment, including sexual harassment.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on grounds of gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status.

Women experienced discrimination especially in the attainment of managerial positions. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. A significant gender gap exists in senior positions. For example, women dominated the lower administrative level on the public-service workforce, but very few women held senior management positions. A shortage of jobs compounded the limited entry and advancement opportunities for women in the workforce. A program, “Waka Mere” (She Works), funded and implemented by the International Finance Corporation, Australia, and New Zealand, worked with businesses to promote gender equality in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August the minimum wage was increased and is above the poverty level. The proportion of the population living below the food poverty line was 4.4 percent. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week.

Occupational safety and health laws require employers to provide a safe working environment and forbid retribution against any employee who seeks protection under labor regulations. These laws are current and appropriate for main industries. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. Some workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety, particularly in the fishing and logging industries, without jeopardy to their employment.

The commissioner of labor in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labor and Immigration, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually reacted to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws. The government’s minimal human and financial resources limited its ability to enforce the law in smaller establishments, the informal economy, and the subsistence sector. The number of labor inspectors was, moreover, insufficient to monitor labor practices routinely, particularly in extractive sectors outside of the capital. An active labor movement and an independent judiciary, however, helped provide effective oversight of labor law enforcement in major state and private enterprises. The law does not specify penalties for violations, significantly weakening effective enforcement.

Workers in the logging, construction, and manufacturing industries were subject to hazardous and exploitative work. Accidents were largely due to negligence or failure to adhere to safety practices by employees and employers.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. The Legislative Assembly, a parliamentary body consisting of 17 popularly elected members and nine nobles selected by their peers, elects the prime minister. Following the November 2017 election, which international observers characterized as generally free and fair, Prime Minister Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was returned to office for a second term. After Pohiva’s death in September, the Legislative Assembly elected Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa to replace him. While Tu’i’onetoa and his cabinet are responsible for most government functions, King Tupou VI, the nobility, and their representatives retain significant authority.

The Tonga Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police and Fire Services. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; and a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults that remains on the books although it is not enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There was one case of torture, which the government took steps to address.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets reported on political developments and high-profile court cases, but privately owned media exercised self-censorship regarding high-profile individuals. The board of state-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast.

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. Workplaces and internet cafes provided internet access, but most homes did not have internet access.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the formal granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The principal immigration officer has wide discretionary powers under immigration laws and may allow noncitizens to remain in the country, including on humanitarian grounds.

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 country held its most recent election in November 2017 after the king dissolved parliament. International observers deemed the parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was re-elected as prime minister in December 2017. After Pohiva’s death in September, the Legislative Assembly elected Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa prime minister.

Parliament has 26 elected members. Of these, citizens directly elect 17, and the 33 hereditary nobles elect nine of their peers. Parliament elects the prime minister, who appoints the cabinet. The prime minister may select up to four cabinet members from outside parliament. The law accords these cabinet members parliamentary seats for the duration of their tenure in the cabinet.

The king retains significant powers, such as to withhold his assent to laws (with no possibility of parliamentary override) and to dissolve parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. A variety of institutional and cultural factors kept women’s representation low. Among these were the reservation of nine seats in parliament for nobles, all of whom are men; continuing male domination of informal local government systems, which deny women “entry-level” positions in politics; and cultural attitudes across the population about women’s proper roles and competence. The rate of registration to vote among women is the same as the rate among men, and women have the same legal rights to run for election. Voters elected two women to parliament in the November 2017 election, and several women were elected to local offices in 2016, suggesting incremental change. A woman may become queen, but the constitution forbids women from inheriting hereditary noble titles or becoming chiefs.

There were no members of minority ethnic groups in the government or parliament.

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 effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In September the Attorney General’s Office submitted a proposal for a joint trial of former prime minister Lord Tu’ivakano, arrested in March 2018, and two others on charges including passport offenses, money laundering, and bribery in connection with the issuance of a passport to a Chinese national and possibly other matters. The defense opposed the submission by the Attorney General’s Office to include all charges in one trial. The case was pending as of year’s end.

The Office of the Auditor General reports directly to the Legislative Assembly with the aim to enhance accountability and transparency in all government activities and improve public-sector performance. The Office of the Ombudsman is empowered to investigate official corruption. Both entities actively collaborated with other government agencies but were not considered by civil society groups to be independent of political control, operationally efficient, or sufficiently resourced.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views. The Office of the Ombudsman oversees the rights of every citizen in the country, including members of the public service and vulnerable members of society such as women, children, prisoners, and persons with disabilities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. The law recognizes spousal rape. The law makes domestic violence a crime punishable by a maximum of 12 months in prison, a fine of Tongan pa’anga (TOP) 2,000 ($860), or both. Repeat offenders face a maximum of three years in prison or a maximum fine of TOP 10,000 ($4,300). The law provides for protection from domestic violence, including protection orders; clarifies the duties of police; and promotes the health, safety, and well-being of domestic-violence victims.

Police investigated reported rape cases, and the government prosecuted these cases under the law. In February, for example, two male teenagers were sentenced to seven and eight years, respectively, for raping a woman. The police domestic-violence unit has a “no-drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault, and once filed, domestic-violence cases cannot be withdrawn and must proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. The Ministry of Police, local communities, churches, youth groups, other nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC) have conducted more than 12 training programs for government agencies and civil society groups on issues such as human rights, child abuse, sexual harassment, violence against women, and domestic violence.

As of June, 95 percent of the total cases received by the WCCC in 2019 were victims of domestic violence. Police worked with the National Center for Women and Children as well as with the WCCC to provide shelter for abused women and girls and boys younger than 14 years. Both centers operated a safe house for victims. The WCCC reported a decline in sexual abuse cases involving teenagers ages 14 to 16.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime under the law, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Complaints received by the police domestic-violence unit indicated that sexual harassment of women is a common problem.

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

Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights pass through male heirs only; a male child born out of wedlock has precedence over the deceased’s widow or daughter. If there are no male relatives, a widow is entitled to remain on her husband’s land as long as she does not remarry and remains celibate. The inheritance and land rights laws also reduced women’s ability to access credit and to own and operate businesses.

Discrimination against women with respect to employment and wages occurred (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals acquire citizenship at birth automatically if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth in the country per se does not confer citizenship.

Education: Education to age 18 is compulsory but not, by law, free. There is a policy, however, that provides free education to all children between the ages of six and 14.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. If a case is reported to police, the child is removed from the parents or guardians and placed in the care of either the WCCC or the National Center for Women and Children while police investigate. The WCCC implemented a variety of child-abuse awareness programs at schools from primary to tertiary levels.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 15 years. According to NGOs, child marriages were a result of several factors, including parental pressure, teenage pregnancy, or forced marriage to rapists.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Violators who sexually abuse children may be charged with “carnal knowledge of a child under age 12,” which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, or “carnal knowledge of a child under 15,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. There were anecdotal reports of Tongan children being subjected to sex trafficking. The law prohibits the procurement of women and girls younger than age 21 for commercial sexual exploitation but does not criminalize the procurement of boys for the same. The law also prohibits child pornography with penalties of a maximum fine of TOP 100,000 ($43,000) or a maximum of 10 years in prison for individuals and a maximum fine of TOP 250,000 ($108,000) for corporations; however, the use of children younger than age 14 in the production of pornography is not criminally prohibited.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known resident 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution broadly prohibits discrimination based on disability, but no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There were no legally mandated services or government programs for adults with disabilities, including for building accessibility or access to communications and information.

A Ministry of Education and Training program to bring children with disabilities into primary schools continued during the year. Many school buildings, however, were not accessible to students with physical disabilities, and attendance rates of children with disabilities at all educational levels were lower than those of students without disabilities.

As of September the National Council on Disability and the Ministry of Internal Affairs had implemented a program to provide financial assistance to disabled individuals. The Ministry provides 1,043 qualifying persons TOP 75 ($32) monthly.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law restricts ownership and operation of retail food stores to citizens. Ethnic Chinese who are naturalized Tongan citizens dominated the retail sector in many towns. There were reports of crime and societal discrimination directed at members of the Chinese minority, but the government appropriately investigated and prosecuted reported offenses.

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

Sodomy is listed as a crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but there were no reports of prosecutions under this provision for consensual sexual conduct between adults. No law specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or addresses hate crimes. No criminal-justice mechanisms exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals. Society accepted a subculture of transgender dress and behavior, and a prominent NGO’s annual festival highlighted transgender identities. Social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of incidents of violence or discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of discrimination or violence against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, but the government has not promulgated regulations on the formation of unions, collective bargaining, or the right to strike. No law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination or provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was no dispute resolution mechanism in place specifically for labor disputes, although persons could take cases to court or refer cases to the Office of the Ombudsman. There were no reports of collective bargaining.

Penalties for legal violations incur criminal fines, which are not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association. Trade unions and a variety of other worker associations exist. For example, the Friendly Islands Teachers Association and the Tonga Nurses Association were legally incorporated as civil society organizations, and the Friendly Island Seafarer’s Union Incorporated was affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation. The Public Service Association acted as a de facto union representing all government employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. No data was available on government efforts specifically to address forced labor. There were unconfirmed, anecdotal reports of forced labor among women and children in domestic service (see section 7.c.).

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

No legislation prohibits child labor or specifies a minimum age for employment. There were no reports that child labor existed in the formal wage economy. According to the National Center for Women and Children and other NGOs, some school-age children worked in the informal sector in traditional family activities such as subsistence farming and fishing.

The law does not meet the international standard for the prohibition of child trafficking because it does not specifically prohibit the domestic trafficking of children, nor does it criminally prohibit forced labor, debt bondage, and slavery, unless they involve transnational human trafficking.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on any particular personal characteristic, feature, or group affiliation. Discrimination against women in employment and wages occurred. Women participated in the work force at a lower rate than men, were generally employed in lower-skilled jobs, and earned measurably less than men earn.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage, but the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor sets wage-level guidelines. The law stipulates occupational health and safety standards for each sector, such as fisheries and agriculture. These standards are current and appropriate for main industries, and penalties for violating them were sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The law does not provide for overtime pay for a workweek of more than 40 hours, but some employers, including some government offices, did pay their workers overtime.

Enforcement of regulations was inconsistent. The Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor sought to enforce these standards in all sectors, including the informal economy; however, there were an insufficient number of inspectors. Penalties for violations took the form of monetary fines, which were adequate to deter violations.

Few industries exposed workers to significant danger.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. Following a snap election in 2016, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in July 2017.

The national police maintain internal security. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary police unit, is responsible for external security but also has some domestic-security responsibilities. Both agencies report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption, and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, although some police impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: In November, Dan McGarry, a Canadian citizen, long-time resident, and the editor of the country’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily Post, told media that the government had refused to renew his work permit. According to McGarry the government claimed this was in order to fill the position by somebody from the country, but McGarry said that in July the prime minister had summoned him and berated him for “negative reporting.” McGarry believed the prime minister was specifically displeased with Daily Post reporting in July about the government’s cooperation with China to deport six Chinese nationals, four of whom had recently acquired Vanuatu citizenship through a program designed to attract Chinese investment.

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. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government cooperated with UNHCR in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution 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: Despite time and funding constraints faced by the Electoral Commission, international and domestic observers considered the 2016 snap election free and fair. Of 24 election disputes filed by unsuccessful candidates, the commission dismissed 23 for lack of evidence. One dispute necessitated a recount, which changed the result of the election for that seat. Voter rolls continued to be problematic and larger than would be expected based on population size, but this situation did not appear to affect results significantly.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Most of the 28 political parties that contested the 2016 election were newly formed.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Traditional attitudes regarding male dominance and customary familial roles, however, hampered women’s participation in political life. No women served in the 52-member parliament, although eight women contested the 2016 election. In May 2018 the Vanuatu Council of Women formed a political party aimed at achieving gender equality in parliament. In October women coordinating with Vanuatu Oxfam launched a get-out-the-vote campaign entitled “Vote for Women,” with the aim to support all women planning to contest the 2020 elections regardless of political affiliation.

The law allows municipal governments to reserve council seats for women for each ward in each municipality, and Port Vila and Luganville have done so. Port Vila has five reserved seats for women out of 14 seats in the municipal council. Luganville has four seats reserved for women out of 13 seats. In March 2018 Port Vila voters elected a woman to an open seat. Women interested in running for public office received encouragement from the Vanuatu Council of Women and the Department of Women’s Affairs, which also offered training programs.

A small number of ethnic-minority persons (non-Melanesians) served in parliament. Prime Minister Salwai is from the francophone population, a linguistic minority.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government made some efforts to implement the law. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Auditor General’s Office are key government agencies responsible for combating government corruption. In July, Hamlison Bulu was appointed ombudsman.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law. In 2017 the Office of the Ombudsman recommended that Deputy Prime Minister Bob Loughman be prosecuted for breaching the leadership code by trying to exercise undue influence over the member selection process for the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education. As of November the Public Prosecutor’s Office had not acted on the recommendation.

In July an official from the Department of Strategic Planning and Policy was sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling VUV 5.6 million ($48,200) in public funds.

Also in July an official from the Department of Education was sentenced to 14 months in prison for defrauding the state of VUV 6.88 million ($59,200) in public funds.

Financial Disclosure: Members of parliament and elected members of provincial governments are subject to a leadership code of conduct that includes financial disclosure requirements. They must submit annual financial-disclosure reports to the clerk of parliament, who then publishes a list of elected officials who did not comply. The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates those who do not submit reports, confirmed that some officials did not comply with these requirements. Reports are not made available to the public, and the ombudsman only has access for investigative purposes.

In September 2018 Kalo Seule, a sitting member of parliament, was convicted of tax evasion for not declaring income from his personal business. Seule appealed his conviction; however, the magistrate court had no jurisdiction to hear the charges relating to a monetary claim exceeding VUV 988,000 ($8,500), so the case was transferred to the Supreme Court in October 2018.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In consultation with other political leaders, the president appoints a government ombudsman to a five-year term. Investigating alleged human rights abuses is among the Office of the Ombudsman’s responsibilities. The office, however, does not have the power to prosecute, and the findings of its investigations are not admissible as evidence in court proceedings. The ombudsman referred cases deemed valid to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for action, but there were few prosecutions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape–regardless of the victim’s gender–is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of VUV 100,000 ($860), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence.

Police were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters. There is, however, a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which police are not supposed to drop reported domestic-violence cases. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. According to a 2017 report from Correctional Services, more than 60 percent of prison inmates were charged with sex-related offenses. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.

There were no countrywide government information programs designed to address domestic violence. Although media attention to domestic violence and abuse was generally limited, the killings of two women by their partners in Port Vila in 2017 received significant attention.

The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as equal to those of men. The law, however, does not allow citizen mothers alone to transmit citizenship to their children.

Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance.

Women were slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, but women continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work. The Department of Women’s Affairs worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law, holding multiple open workshops throughout the year that coincided with public holidays to encourage participation at the local community level.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father, but not a citizen mother, may transmit citizenship to a child regardless of where the child is born. A child born of a citizen mother may apply for citizenship at age 18. The lack of citizenship at birth can cause a child to be denied passports and other rights and services. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.

Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with access to education. Although the government stated its commitment to free and universal education, school fees and difficult geography were barriers to school attendance for some children.

School attendance is not compulsory. In general boys received more education than girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.

Child Abuse: The country does not have a legal definition of child abuse, but the law addresses sexual abuse of children and states that parents must protect children from violence within the family setting. The national child protection policy recognizes the government’s responsibility to protect all children from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and includes the need to introduce a child protection bill.

NGOs and law-enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of child abuse, incest, and rape of children in recent years. A 2017 UNICEF report stated that eight of 10 children from ages two to four experienced violent discipline at home. It also stated that one in three children experienced severe physical punishment at home and that sexual abuse before the age of 15 affected three of 10 children. The government did little to combat the problem.

In April 2018, for example, a six-year-old girl was abducted from her home, raped, and killed. In April the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in the first case prosecuted under the Penal Code amendment of 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 and girls as young as 16 may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2018 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 13 but younger than 15, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography. There were no criminal cases dealing with pornography or child sexual exploitation during the year.

The maximum penalty for publishing child pornography is five years’ imprisonment and for possession, two years’ imprisonment.

Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 engaged in prostitution.

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.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community consisted of a few foreign nationals, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

In November 2018 four Bangladeshi nationals were arrested for trafficking 100 Bangladeshi men and two children to work for the Mr Price company (a South African retailer) in Vanuatu. At their September hearing, all four pleaded not guilty. The trial in the Supreme Court began on November 21, but it recessed on December 6 with a scheduled January 2020 resumption. Of the 102 victims, 77 have departed the country, and 25 remained as witnesses against their alleged traffickers.

Persons with Disabilities

No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Although the building code mandates access for persons with disabilities in existing and new facilities, they could not access most buildings.

The government did not effectively implement national policy designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Access to services through the Ministry of Health’s mental-health policy was very limited. Schools were generally not accessible to children with disabilities.

The government generally relied upon the traditional extended family and NGOs to provide services and support to persons with disabilities. The high rate of unemployment in the general population, combined with social stigma attached to disabilities, meant few jobs were available to persons with disabilities.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct, but there were reports of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. LGBTI groups operated freely, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect them.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Traditional beliefs in sorcery fueled violence against persons marginalized in their communities, although there were no documented cases during the year. Women were often targets of opportunity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. This right is not extended to the police force or prison service. While the law does not require union recognition by the employer, it prohibits antiunion discrimination once a union is recognized. Unions are required to register with the government and to submit audited statements of revenue and expenditure to the registrar annually. Unions require government permission to affiliate with international labor federations; the government has not denied any union such permission.

The law prohibits retaliation for legal strikes but does not explicitly require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. Unions are independent of the government, but there were instances of government interference in union activities. The law requires unions to give 30 days’ notice of intent to strike and to provide a list of the names of potential strikers. A union must also show that it has attempted negotiation with the employer and reported the matter to the industrial registrar for possible mediation. The minister of labor may prohibit persons employed in essential services from striking. Under the law a court may find any person who fails to comply with such a prohibition guilty of an offense; similarly, for strikes in nonessential services, courts may also find workers failing to comply with procedural requirements guilty of an offense. Convictions for such offenses may result in an obligation to perform compulsory labor in public prisons.

Complaints from private-sector workers about violations of freedom of association are referred to the Department of Labor for conciliation and arbitration. The Public Service Commission handles complaints of violations from public-sector workers. Complaints of antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Department of Labor. According to the commissioner for labor, the department has a dispute-resolution process to manage these grievances.

The government effectively enforced applicable law without lengthy delays or appeals. Resources were limited, and investigations were generally only carried out following complaints. Penalties for violating the law were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers respected freedom of association, but the right to collective bargaining was not explicitly laid out in the law. In May the Teachers Union issued a strike notice demanding that the government settle teachers’ grievances regarding pay-scale anomalies and outstanding benefits. The government and the union agreed to a settlement before any strike action. In June the Ministry of Education promised the Vanuatu Teachers Commission that the first tranche of VUV 153 million ($1.32 million) would be released, settling the outstanding salaries of 576 teachers. A future installment of VUV 376 million ($3.23 million) was allocated for the remaining 585 teachers. These installments were appropriated in the current VUV 506 million ($4.35 million) supplementary budget.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the law prohibits slavery and human trafficking. The law excludes from the definition of forced labor any work or service that forms part of the national civic obligations of citizens, but the law does not define such work.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violating the law were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports that forced labor occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not explicitly prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 14. The law prohibits children younger than 12 from working outside family-owned agricultural production, where many children assisted their parents. Children ages 12 to 14 may perform light domestic or agricultural work if a family member works alongside the child, and agricultural work if the community does it collectively. Children younger than 18 generally may not work on ships; however, with the permission of a labor officer, a child age 15 may work on a ship. Although parliament established a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work, the law does not comply with international standards, because it does not prohibit children ages 16 to 17 from engaging in hazardous work, such as industrial labor and work on ships.

The government did not release enough information related to its enforcement of child-labor law to determine whether the law was effectively enforced. The Department of Labor confirmed there were no reported cases of illegal child labor during the year, and department action to address child labor was limited to informal presentations on the topic. There were no reports of government stopping child-labor activities or imposing administrative barriers. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

According to the National Child Protection Policy, the country has no data to determine the nature and prevalence of child labor. The Department of Labor stated, however, that most child workers were involved in logging activities. Logging activities expose children to hazardous activities including having no proper protective equipment to operate machines, no proper training, and no regular medical checkups. Children were also involved in handling or lifting heavy loads. There were also reports of a lack of regular inspection from forestry and other appropriate government agencies to provide appropriate guidance to the workers.

There were no credible reports of children employed in agriculture illegally, although legal employment of children in hazardous work could constitute a worst form of child labor. There were reports children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination with respect to race, religion, political opinion, traditional beliefs, place of origin or citizenship, language, or sex.

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on employment discrimination against women, which was widespread. The penalties for violation of this prohibition are not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination against women was especially common in promotions to management positions. Persons with disabilities also faced discrimination with respect to employment and occupations. The International Labor Organization noted that legislation allowing for the removal of persons with disabilities from some senior positions appeared to reflect an assumption that persons are incapable of holding such a position if they have any form of disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is above the national poverty income level.

The law provides for a 44-hour maximum workweek, and the total number of hours worked, including overtime, should not exceed 56 hours per week. Workers must receive more than three days paid annual holidays. The law provides for a premium of 50 to 75 percent more than the normal rate of pay for overtime work.

The law includes provisions for occupational safety standards, which are up-to-date and appropriate for the main sectors. Legal provisions on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens in the formal sector. Application of safety and health provisions were inadequate to protect workers engaged in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, the government did not protect workers in this situation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, especially in the informal sector. The labor commissioner stated that most companies complied with the wage rate and inspectors conducted routine inspections to determine that minimum wages were paid. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not receive any formal complaints of violations regarding minimum wage, hours of work, or safety standards during the year.

Many companies in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing did not provide personal safety equipment and standard scaffolding for workers.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report