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; the law is gender neutral, although there have been no cases of men alleging rape. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize perpetrators of domestic violence, to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and to provide support for survivors. Complainants may file for either a temporary or a permanent protective order, which requires that the alleged perpetrator keep 150 feet from the complainant. Temporary protective orders have a duration of 28 days. Permanent protective orders remain in effect until the complaint is withdrawn. The law also requires all citizens to report suspected domestic violence. The government did not enforce laws on rape and domestic violence effectively.
The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence was intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limited the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. 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, but human rights advocates reported hesitancy among victims to report these crimes to the police despite awareness-raising efforts.
Various studies have suggested sexual violence of all types is common but frequently unreported. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the high rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed gender-based violence was justified in many situations. In 2018 the World Health Organization estimated that 38 percent of ever-married or partnered women ages 15 to 49 had experienced intimate-partner violence in their lifetime, and 19 percent had experienced it in the previous 12 months.
Government health offices provided limited counseling services when spousal 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 partnered with government and other donors for its Weto in Mour (A Place of Life) Violence against Women and Girls Support Service, which provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments. The nonprofit Micronesian Legal Services Corporation offered free legal services to victims to obtain a protective order.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. The law was generally not well enforced.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Access to information on contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care was available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls. On remote atolls only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available, limiting the quality of available care, particularly prenatal care. Parents or guardians must provide consent for medical treatment affecting reproductive health for minors. Cultural and religious barriers sometimes blocked access to contraception.
The government provided sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although representation of property rights was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the woman landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country. The government generally enforced these rights.
Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population and women serve in a wide range of important roles in the government bureaucracy. There is no law on equal pay for equal work; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees. Women faced tightening dress codes that restricted wearing pants in some government buildings.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
No laws specifically address the protection of members of racial or ethnic minority groups from persecution. The constitution provides equal protection and freedom from discrimination for all persons and prohibits the creation of laws or judicial actions that discriminate against any person based on race, color, religion, language, gender, political opinion, place of birth, national or social origin, family status, or descent.
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 reaching age 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 compulsory and free beginning at age five, the government did not strictly enforce the law. The law does not specify an age at which students may drop out of school. 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. School enrollment rates were 51 percent for boys and 49 percent for girls.
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 for making such a report. Child abuse and neglect remained common.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Marriage before age 18 requires parental consent. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26 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: Sexual relations are illegal for boys younger than age 15 and for girls younger than age 16. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, was largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation, and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The law stipulates authorities may not punish child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and that these victims should have access to support services. The law was generally enforced, although reports of child sexual exploitation persisted.
There were few Jewish residents in the country, and there were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: While there were no official reported acts of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, NGOs and activists reported that such acts may go unreported or misreported due to societal discrimination. Police did not prosecute any acts of violence against LGBTQI+ persons.
Discrimination: Neither the constitution nor law provides specific protection against discrimination for LGBTQI+ persons. Traditional cultural and societal norms meant that LGBTQI+ persons rarely reported instances of discrimination and often had little possibility of recourse. The country’s religious culture could bring indirect social costs to coming out.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Such recognition was not available.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no reports of so-called conversion therapy being practiced in the country.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no formal restrictions on organizing or speaking out about LGBTQI+ issues.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, public buildings, transportation, and other state services on an equal basis with others.
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.