Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and establishes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. Police sometimes respond to rape and domestic assault cases. A domestic violence unit of the police is active in prosecutions and community outreach. The government prosecutes rape cases. Many observers, however, believed reporting and prosecution of sexual offenses was low, since cultural constraints discouraged victims from reporting such crimes. A lack of tools and capacity for evidence gathering also hindered prosecutors. There are court rules to protect women during testimony regarding rape charges.
The law seeks to stigmatize domestic violence; ensure investigation, prosecution, and punishment for perpetrators; and provide support for survivors. Relevant law was used only sporadically, and awareness of it was low outside Majuro. The law also requires certain professionals to report suspected domestic violence.
A 2015 UN Population Fund study stated that seven out of 10 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The study also concluded that 91 percent of women who experienced domestic violence at the hands of their partner or spouse did not report it due to fear of repercussion or belief that the abuse was justified.
A 2016 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) reported that the prevalence of domestic violence was directly related to patriarchal societal norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most Marshallese believed that men were justified in using violence against women in many situations. The study also noted resistance to women’s empowerment and domestic violence prevention in the religious and tribal chief leadership, which see in these activities an erosion of Marshallese culture.
The government’s health office provided limited counseling services in reported spousal and child abuse cases. NGOs increased efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. Women’s groups under the umbrella of WUTMI continued to publicize women’s issues and rights. During the year, WUTMI began offering “‘Weto in Mour’: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service” to survivors of domestic violence age 14 and above. The service, open daily, provides wide-ranging aid (e.g., education, counseling, and legal services) to victims of domestic violence. There are no shelters for domestic violence victims in the country.
Sexual Harassment: The criminal code prohibits sexual harassment and defines it as a petty misdemeanor. The law defines a wide range of activities constituting harassment, including unwanted communication whether anonymous or not, insults or taunts, communication at inconvenient hours or after indicating that further communication is unwelcome, and offensive or unwanted touching or coarse language that creates fear of bodily or property damage.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, 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 Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. A large number of premature babies were born to young teenage mothers, with a resulting high number of babies born with physical and mental disabilities. According to the UN Population Division, an estimated 43 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used some form of modern contraception in 2015.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoy the same rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property often was delegated to male family members on behalf of female landowners. Tribal chiefs are the traditional authorities in the country. Customarily, a chief is the husband or eldest son of the female landowner. The traditional authority exercised by women has declined with growing urbanization and movement of the population away from traditional lands.
While female workers were prevalent in the public and private sectors, many were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. No law requires equal pay for equal work; however, men and women had pay equity for all government positions involving similar work. According to the 2011 Census Summary Report, 28 percent of all working-age women were employed, including in home production such as fishing, tuna canning, and handicraft manufacture.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through one’s parents. Children born within the country to foreign parents do not acquire citizenship at birth but may apply for citizenship upon turning 18 years old. Most births were registered immediately, although reporting was frequently delayed for births on outer islands. Failure to register births generally did not result in the denial of public services such as education or medical care. No gender differences existed in birth registration law, policies, and procedures.
Education: Various fees are required for primary and secondary education. Although primary education is legally compulsory, the government did not strictly enforce the law. To enter public high school, students must take an admission exam, but there was limited space and not all who passed the exam could attend public high schools.
Child Abuse: Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses, but public awareness of children’s rights remained low. Child abuse and neglect remained common. Convictions for violations are punishable by up to 25 years in prison, depending on the degree of the offense. The law requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability as a consequence of making such a report. The Child Rights Act of 2015 provides children with expanded rights, including the right to live free of abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. There were no government programs to address or prevent early marriage. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26.3 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before 18. Forced marriage was not practiced.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, remained largely unenforced. The Child Rights Act of 2015 makes the exploitation of children, including in child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, illegal. The act makes trafficking in children and child pornography production punishable offenses under the criminal code. The act stipulates that authorities may not punish child victims of sexual exploitation, and that these victims should have access to support services.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials but it does not include disability in its listing of specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services. Hospitals, two major grocery stores, and one hotel had ramps for persons with disabilities.
Government support for persons with mental and other disabilities increased during the year. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2015 implements the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The act includes provisions prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, travel, and transportation, access to health care, access to the judicial system, and the right to vote and establishes physical accessibility requirements.
There were no dedicated 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. Police held persons deemed as exhibiting psychotic behavior in a standard detention cell until a healthcare worker could see them.
The NGO Marshall Islands Disabled Persons Organization (MIDPO) promoted and protected the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. MIDPO worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ disability officer as needed. The organization held annual events to raise public awareness of persons with disabilities and provided workshops for the community.
The assistant secretary of the Ministry for Internal Affairs serves as the focal point for disability issues and a Disability Coordinator’s Office authorized by the Cabinet advises the government. 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. The public schools provided special education classes in urban and outer island schools. There were also small foreign-funded classes providing instruction for persons with hearing disabilities at Ebeye on Kwajalein Atoll and in Majuro. The AGO is responsible for prosecuting legal cases involving complaints of discrimination against persons with disabilities, but there were no such cases during the year.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No law criminalizes consensual same-sex activity, and there were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reports of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. The law prohibits same-sex couples or individuals involved in a same-sex relationship from adopting Marshallese children. There were no reports of unique legal or social discrimination against women in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Existing antidiscrimination laws do not specifically protect LGBTI persons. There were no formal impediments to LGBTI organizations, but no such organizations were known.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The Ministry of Health reported a low incidence of HIV/AIDS. There were no reports of official or societal discrimination or cultural stigma toward persons with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS education was part of local health education programs. Public health clinics provide HIV testing. Negative HIV tests are required for some foreign citizens requesting a visa or entry to the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Chinese citizens experienced some social discrimination. The weekly newspaper sometimes published cartoons negatively depicting Chinese people, and Chinese or other people of Asian descent have been victims of robbery and assault based on their appearance. The police did investigate these crimes and the Chinese community has access to the justice system.