Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life in prison, but sentences typically were much shorter. Domestic violence is a crime. The law provides for penalties of up to six months in prison for common assault and up to five years in prison for assault involving bodily harm. The Police investigated cases of rape. There were, however, no court trials following the closure of the courts due to the pandemic and the suspension of the Chief Justice.
The government, in partnership with UN Women, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team, and development partners, offered training for police, public prosecutors, health workers, social welfare workers, education officials, elected officials, and nongovernmental organization workers to implement the law effectively. Domestic violence, often exacerbated by chronic alcohol abuse, continued to be a serious problem. Cultural taboos on reporting rape and domestic abuse and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation rather than prosecution existed.
The government continued implementing the Gender Equality and Women’s Development Policy 2019-2022 that prioritized the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence. The police force has a Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses Unit whose officers participated in a capacity-building program that provided training in handling such cases. Police ran a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. The government’s Strengthening Peaceful Villages program, a community-based intervention program launched in 2019, continued to engage most of the country’s population, which resided in South Tarawa. The Kiribati Women and Children Support Center maintained its support for women and children affected by violence, providing victims with counseling and referral services. The Support Center operated a second shelter for women and children on Kiritimati Island, the second most populated island in the country. The Ministry of Health operated a clinic at the main hospital in Tarawa for victims of domestic violence and sexual offenses.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and prescribes a fine for anyone found guilty of the offense. No harassment reports were known to have been filed with police.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
There were no legal barriers or government policies that impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. Conservative social and cultural attitudes inhibited access for some to the services.
Access to contraception, as well as prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care, was available from public health hospitals and centers, but health services were limited in outer islands. The Kiribati Family Health Association also offered mobile reproductive health clinic services, undertook public campaigns, and provided information and counseling on family planning, although cultural and religious influences remained barriers to access and utilization of services.
The government provided sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, to survivors of sexual violence.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment but not on other grounds (see section 7.d.); there were no reports of government enforcing the law. Women have equal access to education. Property ownership rights are generally the same for men and women, but land inheritance laws are patrilineal, and sons often inherited more land than daughters. The citizenship law contains some discriminatory provisions. For example, the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires citizenship automatically through the marriage, but the foreign husband of a female citizen does not. Mothers cannot confer nationality on their children. The government sought to address inequalities through the Gender Equality and Women’s Development Policy 2019-2022.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
There are no comprehensive legal protections against discrimination. The Employment and Industrial Relations Code protects racial or ethnic minorities or groups from discrimination in hiring and employment.
The country is racially homogeneous. According to the 2020 census, the i-Kiribati population accounts for 95.7 percent of the population, with small minority groups including nationals of Tuvaluan descent.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country unless the child acquires the citizenship of another country at birth through a noncitizen parent. Citizenship may also be acquired by children of a noncitizen mother through the father, but mothers cannot confer nationality to their children with a noncitizen father. The law requires birth registration within 10 days.
Child Abuse: The government and independent observers believed that child abuse, occasionally sexual, was a serious problem. According to the Kiribati Social Development Indicator Survey 2018-2019, child abuses were mainly in the form discipline by physical punishment, with nine in every 10 children aged 1-14 years surveyed had experienced some type of violent discipline. The ministry operated a helpline to respond to concerns on COVID-19, including issues on violence against children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21, or 17 with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law was generally respected, particularly in urban areas.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the procurement of any girl younger than 18 for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and prohibits using a child of either gender younger than 15 for commercial sexual exploitation. In both cases the maximum penalty is two years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and sexual relations with a girl aged 13 to 14 carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The victim’s consent is not a permissible defense under either provision; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense. While this provision applies only to female children, male-on-male sexual exploitation of children can be prosecuted under provisions against “unnatural” offenses (which cover both male and female victims) and as acts of “gross indecency between males,” with maximum penalties of 14 and five years in prison, respectively. The penal code has no specific provision concerning child pornography. Enforcement of the law was weak and there were no reported cases or prosecutions.
A nongovernmental source noted that the government’s stringent COVID-19 port-related measures and border closures prevented crewmembers of foreign fishing vessels exploiting underage girls.
There is no permanent Jewish community, and there were no known reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
There were no confirmed reports during the year that traffickers exploited domestic or foreign victims or that traffickers exploited victims from the country abroad.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: Consensual sexual conduct between men is illegal, with penalties from five to 14 years’ imprisonment depending on the nature of the offense, but there have been no reports of prosecutions under these provisions for many years. The existence of the sodomy law fosters stigma against all persons who engage in homosexual acts, including lesbian and bisexual women.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons:There were no reports of investigations into violence or abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; however, fear of identification, arrest, and sever discrimination or violence from police, family members, or strangers often prevents reporting.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment. Otherwise, no antidiscrimination law exists to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. There were no government reports of discrimination due to LGBTQI+ status, but the scope of discrimination was difficult to measure due to LGBTQI+ individuals’ fear of revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Kiribati Social Development Indicator Survey 2018-2019, 2.3 percent of women and 1.3 percent of men surveyed experienced discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation. There are no hate crime or antigay propaganda laws, nor are there criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTQI+ community.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Legal gender recognition was not available, and societal norms prevented transgender or nonbinary individuals from publicly discussing or expressing their gender identity.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: While no such practices were reported by the government, human rights organizations reported that social, cultural, and religious intolerance led to recurrent attempts to “convert” LGBTQI+ individuals informally through family, religious, medical, educational, or other community pressures.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There are no legal restrictions on those speaking out about LGBTQI+ issues, such as so-called antigay propaganda laws, or ‘hate speech’ laws; there were no restrictions on the ability of LGBTQI+ organizations to legally register or convene public events.
Persons with Disabilities
There are no overall legal protections for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities. It does not define disability but prescribes a fine for anyone found guilty of the offense. The law was not enforced.
Public infrastructure and essential services did not meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Access to buildings, communications, and information for persons with disabilities is not mandated, and there were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities.
Most children with disabilities did not have access to education. Seven schools in the outer islands, the teacher’s college, and the Ministry of Education headquarters were accessible for children and staff with physical disabilities.
The Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.