Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. 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.).
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/.
There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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.
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.