Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape of any person, including spousal rape, as a crime and conviction provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. From January to July, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center recorded 791 domestic violence cases. This was an increase over previous years, attributed to a national toll-free help line that provided for victims to more easily report abuses and COVID-19 movement restrictions that confined victims with their abusers.
Media reported the case of a woman who on January 25 was assaulted by her partner in the town of Cunningham, admitted to the hospital the following day, and died of her injuries on February 8. As of February 13, no arrest was made in the case. An investigation into the assault reportedly continued at year’s end.
The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to continue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Other reports indicated lax police enforcement of domestic violence laws. Courts also dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation among aggrieved parties in both the Indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In past years, authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.
The NGOs Fiji Women’s Crisis Center and Pacific Women supported a wide range of educational, social support, and counseling measures for survivors of gender-based violence and advocated for legal reforms to strengthen protections for women and girls.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government also used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females” that prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment was a significant problem.
In June, Dr. Joji Vakadiwaiwai, former senior medical officer of Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital, appeared in court for a bail hearing. Vakadiwaiwai was charged with sexual assault against a medical intern in the hospital in 2020. Although he was charged and suspended from duty, his trial had not begun at year’s end.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were reports individuals with disabilities were not given the opportunity to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including sterilization.
The government provided family planning services. Women had access to contraceptives free of charge at public hospitals and clinics, and for a nominal fee if prescribed by a private physician. Nevertheless, NGOs reported some women faced societal and family pressure against using contraceptives. The government provided sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for sexual violence survivors.
Discrimination: By law women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership, but local authorities often excluded them from decision-making on the disposition of Indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share of the proceeds from the lease of Indigenous land, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty obtaining protection orders, and police enforcement of them, in domestic violence cases.
Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Tension between ethnic Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority continued to be a problem. Ethnic Fijians comprised approximately 58 percent of the population and Indo-Fijians 36 percent; the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of ethnic Fijians and Rotumans that it characterized as racist and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector and ethnic Fijians the security forces.
Land tenure remained highly sensitive and politicized. Ethnic Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land, the government held 4 percent, and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom were descendants of colonial-era indentured laborers. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed their dependence on leased land constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many ethnic Fijians believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.
By law all ethnic Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners, the Vola ni Kawa Bula. The register verifies access for those in it to communally owned Indigenous lands.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.
Education: Education is compulsory until age 15. Although the law does not provide for free education, the government as a matter of policy provided for free education to age 15; however, students must pay nontuition costs, such as for uniforms.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers, health-care workers, and social welfare workers of any suspected case of child abuse.
Child abuse was, nonetheless, common. Through July, 21 child sexual abuse cases were reported to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center. Urbanization, the breakdown of extended family structures, and stresses arising from lockdowns and other COVID-19 pandemic prevention measures contributed to a reported rise in abuse cases from January to October, and more children sought shelter at state-funded homes. In most cases, however, these facilities were overburdened and unable to assist all victims. The government continued its public awareness campaign against child abuse.
Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. In March, Minister of Education Premila Kumar reported four teachers were dismissed from service in 2021 for the corporal punishment of students.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married before 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In ethnic Fijian villages, pregnant girls younger than 18 could live as common-law wives with the child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint with police by the girl’s family. Girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking continued, and increased urbanization and the breakdown of traditional community and extended family structures appeared to increase children’s vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation. It is a criminal offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 for sex, commercial sex, or other unlawful purposes; conviction of these offenses is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. While there were reports of child trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, no prosecutions or convictions took place during the year.
It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children on his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses.
Some high school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were subjected to sex trafficking, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu. Child sex trafficking was perpetrated by family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen, and crew members on foreign fishing vessels.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The court of appeals set 10 years as the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Conviction of defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; the maximum penalty for conviction of the defilement of a child age 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Production but not possession or consumption of child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty for conviction is 14 years in prison, a substantial fine, or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a larger fine, or both for a repeat offense. Authorities generally enforced the law against production of child pornography.
The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers, health-care workers, and social workers of any suspected violation of the law.
There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: NGOs reported violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community was common, and that strong and widespread social stigma contributed to a lack of trust in police and discouraged victims from reporting crimes to authorities due to fear of further violence or harassment. Reports indicated transgender women continued to face extremely high rates of sexual and gender-based violence, including routine harassment and targeting by police.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, NGOs reported complaints of discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment, housing, access to health care, and other fields.
Research by the NGO Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DIVA) found that a majority of lesbian and bisexual women, and of transgender persons, lived in poverty due to unemployment. According to DIVA, approximately 62 percent of this group were unemployed or involved in precarious casual work.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Legal gender recognition was not available. The lack of identification that aligned with their gender expression created significant problems for some persons in employment, education, housing, and other aspects of daily life.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no known reports of involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices on LGBTQI+ persons. Although the country does not have a law banning so-called conversion therapy, health-care professionals are prohibited from attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation. There were no known cases of enforcement action.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no known reports of restrictions on those speaking out concerning LGBTQI+ topics, although cyber bullying and hate speech against transgender individuals increased.
Persons with Disabilities
Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The constitution or laws provide for the rights of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information; to use of braille or sign language in official communications; and to reasonable access to accommodations, including materials and devices related to the disability. The constitution, however, provides for the law to limit these rights “as necessary,” and the law does not define “reasonable.” Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting persons with disabilities.
Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to all, but only a few met this requirement.
Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination.
There were some government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, in particular for the deaf and blind. Parliament televised its sessions in sign language. According to the UN Population Fund, sign language interpreters were not always readily available in health care facilities. The general lack of accessible communication devices made it difficult for women with sensory disabilities to seek out gender-based violence services.
Several public schools specifically for children with disabilities offered primary education services; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary or higher education for persons with disabilities.
The law stipulates community, public, and general health-care systems treat persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported such persons at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.
The Fijian Elections Office maintained a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. On July 7, the office received 2,100 copies of the first-ever braille Assisted Voting Steps Easy to Read Guide to facilitate voting for blind and visually impaired voters. The office also has procedures to facilitate voting by other voters with disabilities, including provisions that allow voters with disabilities to vote from home.