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Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In 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 is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense, National Security, and Policing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, in some cases leading to death; 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 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 299 domestic violence cases. This was an increase over previous years, attributed to a new national toll-free help line via which victims found it easier to report abuse and to COVID-19 movement restrictions that confined victims with their abusers. 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.

In May the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre warned of a spike in domestic violence during the enforced COVID-19 lockdown and curfew, and Minister for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa stated calls to the government helpline had risen from 87 in February to 187 in March and more than 500 in April. At a five-day police training program on gender-based violence training in November, Vuniwaqa lamented that when victims went to police to lodge a complaint, they were treated like suspects. Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator Shamima Ali reported that almost two in three women in an intimate relationship had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

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.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government provided family planning services, and women had access to contraceptives free of charge at public hospitals and clinics, and for a nominal fee if prescribed by a private physician. Nevertheless, NGOs reported some women faced societal and family pressure against obtaining contraceptives. The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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, although students must pay nontuition costs, such as for uniforms.

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 of abuse and appeared to contribute to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. Reports indicated the number of child abuse cases in the country increased (there were 309 reported cases from February to April) and that more children sought shelter at state-funded homes. In most cases, however, these facilities were overburdened and unable to assist all victims. The government continued its public-awareness campaign against child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married before 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In ethnic Fijian villages, pregnant girls younger than 18 could live as common-law wives with the child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint with police by the girl’s 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.

It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children on his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses.

Some high school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were subjected to sex trafficking, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu. Child sex trafficking was perpetrated 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 exploited 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; 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 substantial fine, or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a larger fine, or both for a repeat offense, plus the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.

The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers, health-care, 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 Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. 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 accommodations, including materials and devices related to the disability. The constitution, however, provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary,” and the law does not define “reasonable.” Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting persons with disabilities.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to all, but only a few met this requirement.

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, in particular the deaf and blind. Parliament televised its sessions in sign language to improve access for the deaf.

There were a number of separate public 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 treat persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported such persons 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 office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 2018 election for voters with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Tension between ethnic Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. Ethnic Fijians comprised approximately 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 ethnic 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, ethnic Fijians the security forces.

Land tenure remained highly sensitive and politicized. Ethnic 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 ethnic Fijians believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.

By law all ethnic 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 confirms titleholders within indigenous communities.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons in employment, housing, access to health care, and other fields.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic. The president exercises executive authority. Following legislative elections, the House of Assembly nominates three or four presidential candidates from among its members, and the public then elects the president for a four-year term. Two-stage parliamentary elections in April preceded the June 22 presidential elections, in which citizens re-elected Taneti Maamau president. Observers considered the elections to be free and fair, despite allegations of corruption and foreign influence throughout election campaigning.

The Police and Prisons Service, under the Ministry of Justice, maintains internal security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police. Members of the security forces were not reported to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: criminalization of consensual sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced, and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life in prison, but sentences typically were much shorter. Domestic violence is a crime. The law provides for penalties of up to six months in prison for common assault and up to five years in prison for assault involving bodily harm.

The government, in partnership with UN Women, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team, and development partners, continued training for police, public prosecutors, health workers, social welfare workers, education officials, elected officials, and NGO workers to implement the law effectively. Cultural taboos on reporting rape and domestic abuse and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation rather than prosecution existed.

The government continued implementing the Eliminating Sexual and Gender-based Violence Policy through a 10-year national action plan launched in 2011 and addressing inequalities through its Gender Equality and Womens Development Policy. The police force has a Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses Unit whose officers participated in a capacity-building program that provided training in handling such cases. Police ran a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. The Kiribati Women and Children Support Center continued increasing support for women and children affected by violence. With the support of an NGO, the center provided victims with counselling and referral services. The Catholic Church operated a second shelter for women and children in Tarawa. The Ministry of Health operated a clinic at the main hospital in Tarawa for victims of domestic violence and sexual offenses.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and prescribes a monetary fine for anyone found guilty of the offense. There were no official reports of sexual harassment. The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource is implementing a three-year Gender Access and Equality Plan to promote a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in government workplaces and training institutes.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to contraception, as well as prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care, was available from public health hospitals and centers. The Kiribati Family Health Association also offered mobile reproductive health-clinic services, undertook public campaigns, and provided information and counseling on family planning, although cultural and religious influences remained barriers to access and utilization of services.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilizations on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in employment but not on other grounds (see section 7.d.), and there were no reports of government enforcing the law. Women have equal access to education. Property ownership rights are generally the same for men and women, but land inheritance laws are patrilineal, and sons often inherited more land than daughters. The citizenship law contains some discriminatory provisions. For example the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires citizenship automatically through the marriage, but the foreign husband of a female citizen does not. Mothers cannot confer nationality to their children.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, unless the child acquires the citizenship of another country at birth through a noncitizen parent. Citizenship may also be acquired through the father. The law requires birth registration within 10 days.

Child Abuse: The law covers the care and protection of minors; the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs is responsible for implementing the law. Child abuse, both physical and occasionally sexual, and often exacerbated by chronic alcohol abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The government, with collaboration from international partners, finalized its child protection interagency guidelines and referral pathway and provided training for service providers on the guidelines.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21, or 17 with the permission of a parent or guardian.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the procurement of any girl younger than 18 for the purpose of prostitution and prohibits using a child of either gender younger than 15 for prostitution. In both cases the maximum penalty is two years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and sexual relations with a girl ages 13 to 14 carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The victim’s consent is not a permissible defense under either provision; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense. While this provision applies only to female children, male-on-male sexual exploitation of children can be prosecuted under provisions against “unnatural” offenses (which cover both male and female victims) and as acts of “gross indecency between males,” with maximum penalties of 14 and five years in prison, respectively. The penal code has no specific provision concerning child pornography.

Anecdotal information from local government and nongovernment sources suggested that a small number of underage girls were exploited in commercial sex with crewmembers from foreign fishing vessels.

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 no permanent Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Kiribati was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

There are no overall legal protections for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities. It does not define disability but prescribes a fine for anyone found guilty of the offense, although the law was not enforced.

Public infrastructure and essential services did not meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Access to buildings, communications, and information for persons with disabilities is not mandated, and there were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Most children with disabilities did not have access to education. Seven schools in the outer islands, the teacher’s college, and the Ministry of Education headquarters were accessible for children and staff with physical disabilities.

The Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

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

Consensual sexual conduct between men is illegal, with a maximum penalty of five to 14 years’ imprisonment depending on the nature of the offense, but there have been no reports of prosecutions under these provisions for many years. No law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care.

There were no reports of investigations into violence and abuse against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma and the inaccessibility of government services may prevent reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a constitutional republic led by President David Kabua. On January 6, the Nitijela, the country’s parliament, elected Kabua following free and fair multiparty parliamentary elections in November 2019.

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. Members of the security forces are not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on freedom of movement related to the COVID-19 pandemic; corruption; and trafficking in persons.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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; the law is gender neutral, although there have been no cases of men alleging rape. 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 was 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. There were two reported cases of sexual assault and conviction in a domestic murder case.

Various studies have suggested sexual violence of all types is common but frequently unreported. 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.

Government health offices 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. The Micronesian Legal Services Corporation offers free legal services to victims to obtain a protective order.

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 was generally not well enforced.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care was available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls. On remote atolls only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available.

The government provides sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. Although statistics were not available, observers said there was a disproportionate number of premature births to teenage mothers. Maternal mortality statistics were not available.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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. The government generally enforced these rights.

Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. There is no law on equal pay for equal work; 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 reaching age 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 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. School enrollment rates were 51 percent for boys and 49 percent for girls.

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.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. Marriage under the age of 18 requires parental consent. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26 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 younger than age 15 and for girls younger than age 16. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, was largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation, and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The law stipulates authorities may not punish child victims of sexual exploitation and that these victims should have access to support services. The law was generally enforced, although unsubstantiated reports of child sexual exploitation persisted.

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 and gives persons with disabilities equal rights under the law.

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 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, Criminalization, 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.

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. In March 2019 national elections were held for the 14-seat unicameral Congress; 10 senators 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 jurisdiction of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces. Members of the security forces were not reported to have committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault of women or men, 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 fine. 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 stated they would not arrest anyone in a domestic violence scenario if the parents of both individuals 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 culturally defined 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.

The national government operates a shelter available to all victims of sexual, domestic, and human trafficking crimes in Chuuk. The Pohnpei Department of Public Safety’s program against domestic violence included a hotline to handle domestic violence cases. The national government hotline to handle possible cases of human trafficking also reported receiving domestic and sexual assault calls.

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

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and they had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care were widely available at public medical facilities and private clinics.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence in the form of counseling and legal and medical assistance, including in partnership with nongovernmental organizations.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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 government enforced the law effectively. The largest employers were the national and state governments, and they paid female employees equal pay for equal work although this is not mandated by law. 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 pressured 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 are no shelters for child victims of domestic abuse. Traditional mediation usually involved agreement among male elders and provided no support for child victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both boys and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a substantial 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 fine, while in Kosrae and Yap it is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Only Pohnpei has a statute prohibiting child pornography. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei have provisions against filming explicit movies of underage children, but Yap and Kosrae have no such provisions. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei impose a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for violations.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small 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; no cases of such discrimination were reported. The National Disability Policy mandates accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities and provides for access to information and communications for persons with disabilities. The law protects access to health services and education 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.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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, Criminalization, 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.

Nauru

Executive Summary

Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the August 2019 parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.

The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

Significant human rights issues included censorship and criminal libel laws, although there were no such cases during the year.

There were no reports that government officials committed egregious human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem. The government has mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women is a crime and carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment. The law specifically applies penalties for rape of married and de facto partners. Police are required to investigate all reported rape cases. They generally did so, and the courts prosecuted cases. Observers said many instances of rape and sexual abuse went unreported. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but authorities prosecuted domestic-violence cases under laws against common assault. The maximum penalty for simple assault is one year’s imprisonment. The maximum penalty for assault involving bodily harm is three years’ imprisonment.

Both police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

The government did not maintain statistics on the physical or domestic abuse of women, but police officials stated they received frequent complaints of domestic violence. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law against sexual harassment, but authorities could and did prosecute harassment involving physical assault under assault laws.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government medical system provided access to contraception and prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care free of charge. A 2017 Asian Development Bank report indicated the contraceptive prevalence rate was 25 percent, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported there was a high unmet need for family-planning commodities. The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Such access, however, was limited by social stigma, cultural practices, and popularly accepted misconceptions. According to the UNFPA, access to adolescent reproductive health services and information was limited, and the 2010-16 adolescent birth rate for those 15-19 years old was 94 per 1,000.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under family, religious, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen. The constitution also provides for acquisition of citizenship by birth in the country in cases in which the person would otherwise be stateless. The law requires registration of births within 21 days to receive citizenship, and families generally complied with the law.

Child Abuse: The government does not maintain data on child abuse, but it remained a problem, according to civil society groups. The law establishes comprehensive measures, including mandatory reporting, to protect children from child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage by persons younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. There are standardized penalties for sexual exploitation of children; intentional sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 16 is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a child younger than 13 carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

The law establishes penalties for taking images of children’s private acts and genitalia. If the child is younger than age 16, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment, and if younger than 13, it is 15 years’ imprisonment. The same law prescribes even tougher penalties for involving children to produce pornographic material. The maximum penalty if the child is younger than 16 is 15 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The cybercrime law outlaws the electronic publication and transmission of child pornography.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.htmlAnti-Semitism

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Nauru was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Although the government has installed mobility ramps in some public buildings, many buildings were not accessible. The Department of Education has a special education adviser who is responsible for education for students with disabilities and teachers provided classes for a small group of students with disabilities.

The Department of Justice is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law grants some legal protections for persons with mental disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, but social stigma likely led to decreased opportunities for employment.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law does not specifically cite sexual orientation, but it could be used to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were isolated reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic with a national government consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are independent of each other. Voters elect the president, vice president, and members of the legislature for four-year terms. On November 3, voters elected Surangel Whipps Jr. president in a generally free and fair election.

The national police and marine police are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order; both report to the Ministry of Justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces generally did not commit abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses such as corruption.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both. Domestic violence is a criminal offense. The law is enforced when police respond to calls of domestic violence; however, many persons are reluctant to call police in these situations due to societal pressure. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), Semesemel Klengeakel Organizations (Strengthening Family) helped families at high risk of domestic violence with counseling sessions and services, working closely with the Ministries of Justice and Health.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. On July 27, the president of the Angaur State legislature, Leon Gulibert, was charged with sexual harassment among other offenses (see section 4).

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the necessary information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The Ministries of Health and Education coordinated efforts to provide sex education, sexual health, and family planning services, including to victims of sexual violence. Public health clinics offered women’s health services such as annual examinations while providing, along with private medical facilities, access to contraception and prenatal care. The Health Ministry encouraged women, including those residing in outlying or isolated states, to seek prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care at Belau National Hospital in Koror, the only facility with the trained professionals and skilled attendance for delivery and postpartum care. Many women who could not travel to the main island visited community health centers in the outlying states for these services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank, however, is matrilineal. There were no reports of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately. Authorities register a child born to foreign national parents as a citizen of the parents’ countries.

Child Abuse: By law a mandatory reporter (physician, dentist, intern, health assistant, medical officer, nurse or practical nurse, schoolteacher or other school official, day-care worker, law enforcement officer, and any other person authorized to provide care or well-being of a child) must report incidents of child abuse. Failure to report is a misdemeanor punishable by not more than one-year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not explicitly prohibit child pornography, but it does prohibit the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the law was enforced. The age of consensual sex is 17. Sexual assault of a minor younger than age 15 is a felony and is subject to a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, a substantial fine, or both. Child sexual abuse is a felony with penalties being substantial fines, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both.

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 reportedly fewer than 20 persons in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The law covers persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the government enforced these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students. Issues regarding persons with disabilities are coordinated with the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Health. Nongovernmental organizations like Omekesang and Palau Parent Network also collaborate with these ministries in providing additional assistance to persons with disabilities.

Qualified disabled adults are able to vote. An authorized representative of the voter needs to file a request by the disabled voter for an absentee ballot to enable an authorized person from the Election Commission to go to the voter’s home and take his or her vote with a witness.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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

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

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

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. Members of the security forces committed isolated abuses.

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 the worst forms of child labor.

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

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 was high. The penalties for rape range from two years’ to life imprisonment, but no court has ever imposed a life sentence.

When police received complaints from abused women, authorities investigated and charged the offender. Authorities charge domestic violence as common criminal assault, with a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment. Village councils typically punished domestic-violence offenders only if they considered the abuse extreme, such as when there were visible signs of physical harm. In the past few years, several villages have taken the extra step of incorporating specific fines into their village by-laws.

The government acknowledged that rape and domestic abuse were of significant concern. The National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, released in 2018, revealed that 86 percent of women experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner, and 24 percent had experienced choking. Many cases of rape and domestic abuse went unreported because societal attitudes discouraged such reporting and tolerated domestic abuse. Social pressure and fear of reprisal typically caused such abuse to go unreported.

The Ministry of Police has a nine-person Domestic Violence Unit that works in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and focuses on combating domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and there were no reliable statistics on its incidence. The lack of legislation and a cultural constraint against publicly shaming or accusing someone, even if justifiable, reportedly caused sexual harassment to be underreported. Victims had little incentive to report instances of sexual harassment, since doing so could jeopardize their career or family name.

Reproductive Rights: All individuals and couples have the right to make informed decisions about the number, spacing, and timing of pregnancies, have the right to manage their reproductive health, and were provided with the information and means to do so.

Some of the country’s development partners supported reproductive rights programming through financial and technical support. The Ministry of Health led policy development and oversight as well as program coordination, monitoring, and training. The UN Population Fund, the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, the Pacific Community, and the World Health Organization provided financial and technical support to programming, protocol, policy and strategy development, data analysis, and training.

The government worked closely with the NGO Samoa Victim Support Group that led in caring for and rehabilitating survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women and men have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditionally subordinate role of women continued to change, albeit slowly.

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. In August a school principal was convicted and fined for caning six students with a hose as punishment for the students’ posting pictures of themselves to social media wearing their school uniforms. Following the incident, the minister of education, sports, and culture publicly spoke out against corporal punishment.

The government aggressively prosecuted reported cases of child abuse.

Press reports indicated an increase in child abuse, especially of incest and indecent assault cases; the rise appeared to be due to citizens’ increased awareness of the importance of reporting physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21 for a man and 19 for a woman. Consent of at least one parent or guardian is necessary if either party is younger than the minimum. Marriage is illegal if a girl is younger than age 16 or a boy is younger than age 18. Early marriage did not generally occur.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Under the law the maximum penalty for sexual relations with children younger than age 12 is life imprisonment and for children between ages 12 and 15 the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law contains a specific criminal provision regarding child pornography. The law specifies a seven-year prison sentence for a person found guilty of publishing, distributing, or exhibiting indecent material featuring a child. Because 16 is the age of majority, the law does not protect 16- and 17-year-old persons.

Although comprehensive data on the sexual abuse of children was not available, the sexual abuse of children remained a widespread problem, and there was a disturbing rise in the number of incidents reported by local media during the year. In the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, nearly 10 percent of female respondents reported they were raped as children by a family member.

The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with NGOs, carried out educational activities to address domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human rights awareness.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

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 Samoa was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

While no law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in the provision of public services, the law does prohibit disability-based discrimination in employment.

Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including ramps and elevators in most multistory buildings.

Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and the community observed this custom widely.

Some children with disabilities attended regular public schools, while others attended one of three schools in the capital created specifically to educate students with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

In July the Supreme Court sentenced an ethnic Samoan man to life imprisonment for assaulting and killing a person at a Chinese-owned business in 2019; there was at least one other attack on a Chinese-owned business in 2019. Observers felt Chinese were targeted partly because of their ethnicity. Several villages prohibit ethnic Chinese persons from owning shops on village-owned land (approximately 80 percent of the land in the country), measures enacted in response to the spread of Chinese-owned retail businesses.

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

“Sodomy” and “indecency between males” are illegal, with maximum penalties of seven and five years’ imprisonment, respectively, but authorities did not enforce these provisions with regard to consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although there were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were isolated cases of discrimination. Although society generally accepted the traditional Polynesian transgender, nonbinary Fa’afafine community, which plays a prominent role in the country, members of the community reported instances of social discrimination.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 2019 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 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 police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, 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 substantial fine. 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.

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.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government’s National Family Planning Program provides all women and men with information on contraception and access to contraceptives. Skilled health-care providers assisted 86 percent of deliveries.

A reported 64 percent of reproductive-age women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives. Although the National Population Policy 2017-2026 includes a goal to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, this goal appeared to be aspirational only.

According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio was 104 per 100,000 live births in 2017 due to factors including a high adolescent birth rate (79 per 1,000 ages 15-19 years), minimal access to antenatal care, and a high rate of unmet need for contraception. Although a reported 94 percent of women and 98 percent of men were aware of at least one contraceptive method, only 29 percent of married women used contraception.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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. On September 21, police arrested a 19-year-old man on allegations that he raped a 14-year-old girl multiple times in August. On September 24, a 60-year-old man was arrested for raping an eight-year-old girl and a 10-year-old girl on multiple occasions throughout 2018 and 2019. 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; however, on August 24, a 44-year-old man was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for raping his 12-year-old niece at knifepoint in 2018.

Child, 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 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. Commercial sexual exploitation of children carries a maximum sentence of 20 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. The law requires 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 do so. 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.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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 lasting from 1998 to 2003. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, 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. Such violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In March authorities charged 12 men with beating a man to death after they accused him of using sorcery to kill a fellow villager. The court case continued. In April police arrested 10 boys for burning down the house of someone they believed had used sorcery. Police continue to investigate the arson.

Nongovernmental organizations operate 11 safe houses throughout the country. The safe houses receive funding from church groups and international donors, but do not receive government funding or support. One safe house in Honiara provides professional training and workshops and also paralegal counseling for victims of gender-based violence.

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 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 2019, 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. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

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

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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 substantial fine, or both. Repeat offenders face a maximum penalty of three years in prison or a steeper maximum fine. 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.

Acting Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea and ‘Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, director of the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC), reported in July the incidence of domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape was rising. They stated that 85 percent of women who suffered domestic violence were repeat victims, with more than 5,000 repeat cases in the past five years handled at WCCC; that from January to June, 537 domestic-violence cases were reported but only 99 were prosecuted; and that most cases went unreported.

Police investigated reported rape cases, and the government prosecuted these cases under the law. In July, for example, a 51-year-old man was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for raping and assaulting a child. 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 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the WCCC have conducted 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, Tongan police recorded 537 domestic-violence related cases, 99 of which were prosecuted. 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 recorded a 54 per cent increase in the number of cases during the COVID-19 lockdown.

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 was a common problem.

Reproductive Rights: In general couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from coercion and violence, although one government policy abridges a woman’s right to family planning. While public hospitals, health centers, and several local and international NGOs provided free information about and access to contraception, under a Ministry of Health policy, a woman does not have permission to undergo a tubal ligation at a public hospital without the consent of her husband or, in his absence, her male next of kin. Spousal consent is not required for men to undergo a vasectomy. According to data published by the World Health Organization, skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births in the three main island groups of Tongatapu, Vavau, and Ha’apai, excluding the outer islands. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Public hospitals and health centers provide free prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Many pregnant women, however, reportedly did not seek these services, which were also less available in the outer islands, contributing to a maternal mortality rate of 124 deaths per 100,000 live births. The low status of women and their lack of power in decision making affected the access of some to sexual and reproductive health services. Fear and mistrust of maternal health-care providers, especially among women in the outer islands, also deterred some from seeking such services. The World Bank reported that in 2019, contraceptive prevalence among women ages 15 to 49 was 29 percent.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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.

Child, 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 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 substantial fine or a maximum of 10 years in prison for individuals and a steeper maximum fine 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 are 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.

The National Council on Disability and the Ministry of Internal Affairs maintained a program to provide modest financial assistance to persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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 in recent years of crime and societal discrimination directed at members of the Chinese minority.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, 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 same-sex 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.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Observers judged that parliamentary elections held in September 2019 were free and fair, with seven new members elected to the 16-member parliament. There are no formal political parties. Following the elections, parliament selected Kausea Natano as prime minister.

The national police service, under the Ministry of Justice, Communications, and Foreign Affairs, maintains internal security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not reported to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced.

The government took steps to investigate human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. The law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense. Under the law domestic violence offenses are punishable by a maximum five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. Under the assault provisions of the penal code, the maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, it is five years.

Police have a Domestic Violence Unit, employ a “no-drop” evidence-based prosecution policy in cases of violence against women, and operate a 24-hour emergency telephone line for victims of domestic violence. The law recognizes the existence of domestic violence and gives police explicit powers to intervene in violent circumstances, including the power to enter private property and order a person who has committed an act of domestic violence to vacate property, whether or not that individual has rights to that property, if another person at risk of further violence occupies it. The Women’s Crisis Center provided counseling services, but there were no shelters for abused women. Cases of rape and domestic violence often went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims, although the Attorney General’s Office and police conducted nationwide awareness campaigns.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, including lewd touching. The Tuvalu Study on People with Disability report, released by the government in 2018, found that women with disabilities were subject to abuse and harassment, including sexual abuse.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The NGO Tuvalu Family Health Association provided information and education about reproductive health and access to contraception, although cultural and religious influences remained barriers to those with disabilities, women, and youth. Government hospitals offered family planning services and provided free prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Aspects of the law contribute to an unequal status for women, for example in land inheritance and child custody rights. No law prevents employment discrimination based on gender or requires equal pay for equal work, and such discrimination occurred. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors and headed a number of NGOs.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship at birth, whether born in the country or abroad, if either parent is a citizen. The law requires registration of births within 10 days, a practice generally observed.

Education: Education is compulsory until age 15. No law specifically mandates free basic education, but government policy generally provides free basic education for all.

Child Abuse: The government does not collect or publish data on child abuse, and there were no reports of child abuse during the year. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicated child abuse occurred. The law prohibits corporal punishment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 15. Sexual relations with a girl younger than 13 carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Sexual relations with a girl older than 12 but younger than 15 carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment; however, no law prohibits the use, procurement, or offering of boys from age 15 through 17 for sex. The victim’s consent is irrelevant under both these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense. No provision of law pertains specifically to child pornography, although the penal code prohibits obscene publications in general. Although child trafficking is prohibited, the law prescribes a harsher punishment for the trafficking of adults than of children.

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 Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Tuvalu was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Government services to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities were very limited. There were no mandated building accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to information and communications, including participation in civic life.

A 2018 government report found that abuse and discrimination against persons with disabilities was prevalent, and women with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to abuse. There were no reports of investigations or punishment by the government for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities, but societal norms may limit the reporting of such incidents particularly against women and girls with disabilities.

Children with disabilities reportedly had lower school attendance rates at all levels than other children. Some students with disabilities attended public primary schools both in Funafuti and in the outer islands. Parents decide which school a child with disabilities attends after consultation with an adviser from the Fusi Alofa Association, a disabilities-focused NGO.

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

The law prohibits consensual sexual conduct between men, with penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment, but there were no reports the government enforced these provisions of the law. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no hate crime laws, nor are there criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. There were no reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma or intimidation may inhibit reporting of such discrimination or violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced some societal and employment discrimination. The government and NGOs cooperated to inform the public regarding HIV/AIDS and to counter discrimination.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. Observers considered the March 19-20 parliamentary election generally free and fair. Parliament elected Bob Loughman as prime minister. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in 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. Members of the security forces are not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of violence against women; and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials and had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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 fine, 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.

In November the Vanuatu Women’s Center reported that the number of domestic-violence cases surged after the March border closure imposed by COVID-19 travel restrictions, with triple the average number of reports for previous years, adding that there was also much violence between families and their landlords. The center provides telephone counseling, face-to-face counseling, and free legal services to ensure the safety of women and children, with support from the Australian government.

In November, Prime Minister Loughman launched a countrywide government information program to address domestic violence. Also in November the Vanuatu Women’s Center introduced a national toll-free help-line number for free counselling, referral, and support services to women and children survivors of domestic violence. The toll-free line can be accessed on the country’s two network providers.

The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Vanuatu Women’s Center 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.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Only a small proportion of women cited a lack of knowledge of contraceptive methods, a lack of access, or cost as the main reason they did not use family planning and contraceptive methods. The government made it a priority under the law to promote gender equality and reduce gender-based violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through provincial hospitals, health centers, dispensaries, and mobile reproductive health outreach clinics.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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.

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: Children born in country to one citizen parent, through either birth or naturalization, are entitled to citizenship. 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 August a former school principal was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexually abusing three underage children who attended his school. In June a man was sentenced to almost four years in prison for raping an underage girl in April 2019.

Child, 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 it is 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 2018, four Bangladeshi nationals were arrested for trafficking 101 Bangladeshi nationals in Vanuatu. At their hearing, all four pleaded not guilty. The trial in the Supreme Court began in November 2019. At year’s end, the case was pending judgment and possible sentencing. Of the 101 victims, 26 remained in country as potential witnesses and 16 provided testimony against their alleged traffickers. The government withdrew its limited financial support for the remaining victims during the year. A small number of the remaining victims were reportedly attempting to return to Bangladesh but faced difficulty finding options due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At least one victim made a claim for asylum through UNHCR.

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

Persons with Disabilities

No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Although the building code mandates access for persons with disabilities to 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, Criminalization, 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 activist group V-Pride Foundation reported the perception within the LGBTI community that police would tolerate violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons; therefore, harassment, discrimination, and criminal acts go unreported. 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.

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