Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime, with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of SBD 30,000 ($3,630).
Police made efforts to charge offenders for domestic violence and assault against women. In June, for example, three male nurses at Kilu’ufi Hospital Psychiatric Unit allegedly raped a 15-year-old mentally ill female patient. Police were investigating the allegation, but as of September, police had not arrested or charged the three suspects. As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.
With donor funding and support, the government conducted training workshops for local court officials in how to process cases of domestic violence and rape. The training focused on how to apply relevant laws and policies and use referral networks to support victims.
Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.
A 2011 World Health Organization report revealed more than half of the women in the country had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner and that 64 percent of women age 15 to 49 years regularly experienced violence in the home.
The Family Protection Act requires that victims of domestic violence have access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community if they cannot return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The incidence of customary bride-price payments continued to increase and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not provide sufficient resources to enforce equal rights laws effectively.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents. The laws do not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 years which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in denial of public services to children.
Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. The government continued to implement its Free Fee Basic Education Policy, which covers the operational costs for children to attend school but allows school management to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash, labor, or school fundraising. The policy is intended to increase educational access by subsidizing school fees for students age six to 15 years in grades one through nine, but it rarely covered all costs. The additional school fees and other costs or required contributions prevented some children from attending school. According to 2013 data from the Asian Development Bank, 75 percent of boys who entered primary school reached the final grade, whereas only 69 percent of girls did. According to the bank, gender imbalance in education decreased from earlier years.
Child Abuse: The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes the courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.
The government did not provide sufficient resources to enforce laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect (see section 7.c.). The law criminalizes domestic violence including violence against children, but lacked public awareness and enforcement. Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. Nonetheless, the traditional extended-family system generally respected and protected children in accordance with a family’s financial resources and access to services.
Early and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15 years, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is age 15 years. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 15, the penalty is five years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was age 15 years or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors younger than age 15 and girls younger than age 18 for prostitution is punishable as a criminal offense. Prostitution laws do not cover boys age 15 to 18 and therefore leaves them without legal protection. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as age 12, but in most cases, official charges were not filed.
Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code passed in 2017 criminalize commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, and storing of sexually exploitative materials with children, and some forms of internal child trafficking. Within the country girls and boys were exploited in prostitution and sexual servitude.
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.
The Jewish community was very small, 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
No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. In August parliament passed changes to the Electoral Act that require electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.
The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to access education. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.
The government relied upon families to meet the needs of persons with mental disabilities, and there were very limited government facilities or services for such persons.
The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of their nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998. Reconciliation ceremonies organized during the year led to further easing of tensions between the two groups. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, however, including issues related to jobs and land rights.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
“Sodomy” is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and for the latter five years. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons under these provisions during the year, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.
There are no specific antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may hinder some from reporting.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was societal discrimination toward persons with HIV/AIDS, but unlike in the past, there were no specific reports of disownment by families and no reports of violence targeting persons with HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were three reported cases of sorcery-related violence during the year. The violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly.
In February, Prime Minister Houenipwela launched the second phase of the UN Peacebuilding Project aimed at consolidating peace, stability, and social cohesion. With support from the UN Peacebuilding Project, the government hosted stakeholder dialogues targeting women and youth as key agents for peacebuilding efforts.