Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, domestic abuse, incest, and indecent assault were significant problems. The law provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape, an indictable offense that only the High Court may try. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. The NGOs Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and Fiji Women’s Crisis Center pressed for more consistent and severe punishment for rape.
The domestic violence decree identifies domestic violence as a specific offense. Police enforced the practice of a “no-drop” policy, whereby they pursued investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdrew the accusation. Women’s organizations reported police were not always consistent in their observance of this policy. The decree gives police authority to apply to a magistrate for restraining orders in domestic violence cases, but police often told victims to apply for such orders themselves. Police officers were not always aware they had the power to apply on the victim’s behalf, and complainants sometimes were obliged to seek legal assistance from a lawyer or NGO. 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 taken into account to mitigate sentences in domestic violence cases, although Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho said that police would continue to charge the sexual offenders regardless of such practices. In some cases offenders were released without a conviction rather than jailed on the condition they maintain good behavior. Several locally based NGOs sought to raise public awareness of domestic violence.
Four women’s crisis centers funded by foreign governments operated in the country. The centers offered counseling and assistance to women in cases of domestic violence, rape, and other problems, such as a lack of child support.
Sexual Harassment: A decree prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibit offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases. Under the Employment Relations law, workers may file complaints on the ground of sexual harassment in the workplace.
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. According to UN Population Division estimates, 43 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2015. 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. Unmarried and young women generally were discouraged from undergoing tubal ligation for birth control, and public hospitals, especially in rural areas, often refused to perform the operation on unmarried women who requested it. Nurses and doctors often required the husband’s consent before operating on a married woman, although there is no legal requirement for such consent. Most women gave birth in hospitals, where skilled health attendants and essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care were available.
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 difficulties having protection orders enforced by police in domestic violence cases.
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.). Several prominent women led civil society, NGO, and advocacy groups.
The Ministry for Women, Social Welfare, and Poverty Alleviation worked to promote women’s legal rights.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents were generally able to register births promptly.
Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in both homes and schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended-family-based structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be factors that contributed to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at age 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In indigenous villages, girls under age 18 who became pregnant could live as common-law wives with their child’s father after the men presented traditional apologies to the girls’ families, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint to police by the families. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued to occur. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child under age 18 for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to 12 years. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is an indictable offense that the High Court must try. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred during the year.
It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children in his or her premises, but there were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses during the year.
Some high school age children and homeless and jobless youth engaged in prostitution during the year, and there were reported cases of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu. In some cases taxi drivers, hoteliers, bar workers, and others reportedly acted as intermediaries facilitating the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Family members, other Fijian citizens, foreign tourists, and crewmembers on foreign fishing vessels also reportedly participated in the prostitution of Fijian children.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The Court of Appeal has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence in child rape cases, but, in such cases, police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement is easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child under age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child between ages 13 and 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years in prison.
Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty for violators is 14 years in prison, a maximum fine of F$25,000 ($12,200), or both for a first offense and life imprisonment, a fine of up to F$50,000 ($24,400), or both for a repeat offense, and the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the offense.
The child welfare decree requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers and health and social welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was a small Jewish community composed mainly 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution considers all persons equal, and discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, provision of housing and land, or provision of other state services is illegal. Statutes provide for the right of access to places and all modes of transport generally open to the public. The constitution addresses specifically the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the right to use Braille or sign language and to reasonable access to materials and devices relating to the disability; the law, however, does not further define “reasonable.” Additionally, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was very little enabling legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting them.
Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but only a few existing buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. There were only a small number of vehicles in the country accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. Government employed a sign-language interpreter to provide translation service on nationwide television during the national budget address in parliament. A number of community organizations assisted persons with disabilities, particularly children.
There were a number of separate schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities for a secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities was very limited.
A decree stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems should provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities in the community, public health, and general health systems. Society, however, separated most persons with such disabilities, and their families supported them at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.
On August 30, the Fijian Elections Office signed terms of reference with the Pacific Disability Forum and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons to create an Elections Disability Access Working Group to improve the political participation of the country’s disability community. The national council, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Several NGOs also promoted attention to the needs of persons with various disabilities.
Tension between indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority is a longstanding problem. Indigenous Fijians make up an estimated 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians comprise 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent is composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotuman, and other Pacific Islander communities. The abrogated constitution contained a nonjusticiable compact that cited the “paramountcy” of Fijian interests as a guiding principle and provided for affirmative action and “social justice” programs to “secure effective equality” for ethnic Fijians and Rotumans as well as for other communities. The compact chiefly benefited the indigenous Fijian majority, although Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector. The government publicly stated its opposition to such policies, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Indigenous Fijians continued to dominate the security forces.
Land tenure remained a highly sensitive and politicized issue. Indigenous Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land, the government held 4 percent, and the remainder was freehold land, which private individuals or companies held. The iTaukei Land Trust Board holds all indigenous land in a statutory trust for the benefit of indigenous landholding units.
Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom are descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Virtually all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed that limits on their ability to own land and their consequent dependency on leased land from indigenous Fijians constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many indigenous Fijian landowners believed that the rental formulas prescribed in the national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners. This situation contributed significantly to communal tensions.
By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official Fijian register of native landowners known as the Vola ni Kawa Bula (or native land register). The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and justifies titleholders within indigenous communities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The Employment Relations law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.
There was some societal discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity, although there was no systemic discrimination. On January 6, Prime Minister Bainimarama said that for as long as his tenure in government leadership continued, there would be no same-sex marriage in the country. After some from the community voiced fears of backlash because of the prime minister’s remarks, Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho assured the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community that police would protect the LGBTI community in line with the bill of rights in the constitution.
The FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against LGBTI persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.
While some with deeply held religious beliefs found same-sex sexual conduct objectionable, in general attitudes toward LGBTI individuals continued to become more accepting. In May various communities held events to promote and celebrate the equal rights of LGBTI persons such as the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although it was not systemic. There were no known cases of violence targeting persons with HIV/AIDS.