Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. The law recognizes spousal rape. The law makes domestic violence a crime punishable by a maximum of 12 months in prison, a substantial fine, or both. Repeat offenders face a maximum penalty of three years in prison or a steeper maximum fine. The law provides for protection from domestic violence, including protection orders; clarifies the duties of police; and promotes the health, safety, and well-being of domestic-violence victims.
Acting Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea and ‘Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, director of the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC), reported in July the incidence of domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape was rising. They stated that 85 percent of women who suffered domestic violence were repeat victims, with more than 5,000 repeat cases in the past five years handled at WCCC; that from January to June, 537 domestic-violence cases were reported but only 99 were prosecuted; and that most cases went unreported.
Police investigated reported rape cases, and the government prosecuted these cases under the law. In July, for example, a 51-year-old man was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for raping and assaulting a child. The police domestic-violence unit has a “no-drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault, and, once filed, domestic-violence cases cannot be withdrawn and must proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. The Ministry of Police, local communities, churches, youth groups, other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the WCCC have conducted training programs for government agencies and civil society groups on issues such as human rights, child abuse, sexual harassment, violence against women, and domestic violence.
As of June, Tongan police recorded 537 domestic-violence related cases, 99 of which were prosecuted. Police worked with the National Center for Women and Children as well as with the WCCC to provide shelter for abused women and girls and boys younger than 14 years. Both centers operated a safe house for victims. The WCCC recorded a 54 per cent increase in the number of cases during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime under the law, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Complaints received by the police domestic-violence unit indicated that sexual harassment of women was a common problem.
Reproductive Rights: In general couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from coercion and violence, although one government policy abridges a woman’s right to family planning. While public hospitals, health centers, and several local and international NGOs provided free information about and access to contraception, under a Ministry of Health policy, a woman does not have permission to undergo a tubal ligation at a public hospital without the consent of her husband or, in his absence, her male next of kin. Spousal consent is not required for men to undergo a vasectomy. According to data published by the World Health Organization, skilled health personnel attended 99 percent of births in the three main island groups of Tongatapu, Vavau, and Ha’apai, excluding the outer islands. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Public hospitals and health centers provide free prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Many pregnant women, however, reportedly did not seek these services, which were also less available in the outer islands, contributing to a maternal mortality rate of 124 deaths per 100,000 live births. The low status of women and their lack of power in decision making affected the access of some to sexual and reproductive health services. Fear and mistrust of maternal health-care providers, especially among women in the outer islands, also deterred some from seeking such services. The World Bank reported that in 2019, contraceptive prevalence among women ages 15 to 49 was 29 percent.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights pass through male heirs only; a male child born out of wedlock has precedence over the deceased’s widow or daughter. If there are no male relatives, a widow is entitled to remain on her husband’s land as long as she does not remarry and remains celibate. The inheritance and land rights laws also reduced women’s ability to access credit and to own and operate businesses.
Discrimination against women with respect to employment and wages occurred (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Individuals acquire citizenship at birth automatically if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth in the country per se does not confer citizenship.
Education: Education to age 18 is compulsory but not, by law, free. There is a policy, however, that provides free education to all children between the ages of six and 14.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. If a case is reported to police, the child is removed from the parents or guardians and placed in the care of either the WCCC or the National Center for Women and Children while police investigate. The WCCC implemented a variety of child-abuse awareness programs at schools from primary to tertiary levels.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 15 years. According to NGOs, child marriages were a result of several factors, including parental pressure, teenage pregnancy, or forced marriage to rapists.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Violators who sexually abuse children may be charged with “carnal knowledge of a child under age 12,” which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, or “carnal knowledge of a child under 15,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. There were anecdotal reports of children being subjected to sex trafficking. The law prohibits the procurement of women and girls younger than age 21 for commercial sexual exploitation but does not criminalize the procurement of boys for the same. The law also prohibits child pornography with penalties of a substantial fine or a maximum of 10 years in prison for individuals and a steeper maximum fine for corporations; however, the use of children younger than age 14 in the production of pornography is not criminally prohibited.
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/reported-cases.html.
There was no known resident Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution broadly prohibits discrimination based on disability, but no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There are no legally mandated services or government programs for adults with disabilities, including for building accessibility or access to communications and information.
A Ministry of Education and Training program to bring children with disabilities into primary schools continued during the year. Many school buildings, however, were not accessible to students with physical disabilities, and attendance rates of children with disabilities at all educational levels were lower than those of students without disabilities.
The National Council on Disability and the Ministry of Internal Affairs maintained a program to provide modest financial assistance to persons with disabilities.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The law restricts ownership and operation of retail food stores to citizens. Ethnic Chinese who are naturalized Tongan citizens dominated the retail sector in many towns. There were reports in recent years of crime and societal discrimination directed at members of the Chinese minority.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sodomy is listed as a crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but there were no reports of prosecutions under this provision for consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. No law specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or addresses hate crimes. No criminal-justice mechanisms exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals. Society accepted a subculture of transgender dress and behavior, and a prominent NGO’s annual festival highlighted transgender identities. Social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of incidents of violence or discrimination.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no reports of discrimination or violence against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence.