Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and indecent assault were significant problems; there was a large increase in the reported number of rape cases this year, due at least in part to greater awareness that a spouse can be charged with rape of his/her partner. The law provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense.
The domestic violence decree defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police enforced the practice of 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 were not always consistent in their observance of 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 considered to mitigate sentences in domestic violence cases. In some cases authorities released offenders without a conviction, on condition they maintained good behavior.
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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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 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.).
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 structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be factors that contributed to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. The government embarked on a major anti-child-abuse public awareness campaign, urging adults not to mistreat children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at 18 years, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In indigenous villages, girls younger than 18 years 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 younger than 18 years for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum imprisonment of 12 years. 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 were exploited for commercial sex trafficking during the year, and there were reported cases of child sex tourism in tourist centers such as Nadi and Savusavu.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The Court of Appeal 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 is easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than 13 years has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child between 13 and 15 years, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.
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 maximum fine of 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 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. 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.” Moreover, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Statutes provide for the right of access to places and all modes of transport generally open to the public. 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 buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. In February parliament began televising its sessions in sign language to improve access for the hearing impaired.
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 provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, though persons with such disabilities were generally supported at home by family. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva. Opportunities for a secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities was very limited.
In April the Fijian Elections Office launched a website to improve accessibility for the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. In 2016 it signed an agreement 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.
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, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies giving “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. Although Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, 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 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 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.
By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official 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. However, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against LGBTI persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.