Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including by a spouse, is a crime with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize it; to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators; and to provide support for survivors. The law also requires certain professionals to report suspected domestic violence.
The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence is intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limits the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. During the year two men in different incidents on remote outer atolls were charged criminally by the Attorney General’s office for beating girlfriends or ex-wives, while two other women successfully got court protection orders requiring violent perpetrators to stay away from victims. Prosecutions for domestic violence were sporadic, and awareness of the law was low outside the capital. A general lack of capacity and resources hindered the prosecution of rape and domestic violence cases. Court rules protect women during testimony in rape cases, primarily by shielding the victim as witness from the accused.
Various studies have suggested that sexual violence of all types is common, but frequently unreported. A May Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs gender equality report estimated that 51 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The same study found that 54 percent of domestic violence victims did not report the incident because of fear of retribution or a belief that the abuse was justified. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed that violence against women was justified in many situations. The fact that, during the year, 50 percent of women who sought protective orders against abusive partners in court eventually withdrew the requests underscored these studies’ conclusions.
The government’s health office provided limited counseling services when spouse or child abuse was reported, but there were no government shelters for domestic violence victims. NGOs continued efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. WUTMI, formed to advance women’s rights, conducted numerous programs to change public attitudes, such as its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which included a march. It also organized training as part of its annual conference. Through its Weto In Mour: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service, cofounded with government and donor partners, WUTMI provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as a petty misdemeanor.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the female landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country.
Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. Many women were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. There is no law on equal pay; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees.
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. 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. Convictions for violations are punishable by a maximum of 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. Child abuse and neglect remained common.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years for women. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26.3 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 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 years. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, remained largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The law 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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There were few Jewish residents in the country. Even after many months, local officials took no action to erase anti-Semitic graffiti visible in several locations in Majuro.
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 specific 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 worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ disability officer 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
Neither the constitution nor law provides specific protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. 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.