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.
UN Women estimated that 35 percent of women experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Another UN study pointed out 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 citizens believed that men were justified in using violence against women in many situations.
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. There are no shelters for domestic violence victims in the country.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is prohibited in the criminal code and is defined as a petty misdemeanor.
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 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.
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.
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. 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 legally compulsory, the government did not strictly enforce the law. 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.
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.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26.3 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before 18. There were no known government measures to prevent or mitigate early marriage.
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 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. Relevant law is designed to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services.
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.
The NGO Marshall Islands Disabled Persons Organization (MIDPO) worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ disability officer as needed to promote and protect the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.
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.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
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.