Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. Police, however, were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.
The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of 100,000 vatu ($928), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence. Police have a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which they do not drop reported domestic violence cases.
There were no nationwide government information programs designed to address domestic violence. Although media attention to domestic violence and abuse was generally limited, the murders of two women by their partners in Port Vila received significant attention. In June Alice Karis died after sustaining head injuries inflicted by her boyfriend during a fight, and in August Flora Charley was found dead in her home after being stabbed by her partner. In both cases, the perpetrators were arrested and are awaiting trial.
The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued to increase and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace (see section 6.d.).
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: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as being equal to those of men. Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance. The country’s nationality law discriminates against citizen mothers who may not alone transmit citizenship to their children.
While women have equal rights under the law, they were only slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, and women experienced discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work (see section 7.d.). The Department of Women worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law.
Birth Registration: A citizen father may transmit citizenship to his child regardless of where the child is born. A citizen single mother may not transmit citizenship to her child, but the child may apply for citizenship at age 18 years. This lack of citizenship at birth can lead to a child being denied passports and other citizen rights and services. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.
Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with access to education. Although the government stated a commitment to free and universal education, school fees and difficult geography were a barrier to school attendance for some children.
School attendance is not compulsory. Boys tended to receive more education than girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.
Child Abuse: Observers did not believe child abuse to be extensive, and the government did little to combat the problem. NGOs and law enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of incest and rape of children in recent years, but no statistics were available. The traditional extended family system generally protected children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 years and girls as young as 16 years may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2016 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 12 years but younger than 15 years, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 12 years. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography. Pornography penalties include up to a two-year prison sentence. These laws were enforced, but there were no criminal cases dealing with pornography during the year.
Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment if the child is 14 years or older, and seven years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 14 years. Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 years regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 years engaged in prostitution.
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.
The country’s Jewish community was limited to a few foreign nationals, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
There were no confirmed reports during the year that the country was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Although the building code mandates access for persons with disabilities in existing and new facilities, they could not access most buildings. The government did not effectively implement national policy designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The government generally relied upon the traditional extended family and NGOs to provide services and support to persons with disabilities. The high rate of unemployment in the general population, combined with social stigma attached to disabilities, meant few jobs were available to persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.). Access to services through the Ministry of Health’s mental health policy was very limited. Schools were generally not accessible to children with disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual conduct, but there were reports of discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons. LGBTI groups operated freely, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect them. In May the country’s first LGBTI advocacy group officially registered as an NGO.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Traditional beliefs in sorcery fueled violence against persons marginalized in their communities. Women were often targets of opportunity.