Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. The courts prosecuted two sexual assault cases, one case of defilement, and one case of indecent assault during the year.
The law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense. Prosecutions occur under the assault provisions of the penal code. The maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, five years’ imprisonment.
The police have a Domestic Violence Unit and a “no-drop” policy in cases of violence against women. The law recognizes the existence of domestic violence, and gives express powers for police involvement and intervention, including the power to enter private property. Police may also issue orders for a person who has committed an act of domestic violence to vacate property, whether or not that individual has rights in that property, if it is occupied by a person at risk of further violence. The government participated in a regional program providing training for police in handling domestic violence cases and held community consultations in the three outermost islands of the country to raise public awareness about a proposed family protection and domestic violence bill. Cases of rape and domestic violence went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims. Human rights observers noted that awareness and education programs were concentrated in the capital of Funafuti to the exclusion of outer island communities. The Women’s Crisis Center, operated by the Tuvalu National Council of Women, provided counseling services, but there were no shelters or hotlines for abused women.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, which includes lewd touching. Sexual harassment was not widely reported, nor were there known cases reported during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and couples have the means and information to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The nongovernmental Tuvalu Family Health Association provided information and education about, and access to, contraception. Government hospitals offer family planning services and provide free prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care. Trained health personnel attended many births.
Discrimination: There remain areas in which the law contributes to an unequal status for women, such as land inheritance and child custody rights. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination on the basis of gender or requiring equal pay for equal work. Women held a subordinate societal position, constrained both by law in some instances and traditional customary practices. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors, headed a number of NGOs, and were more active politically. In the wage economy, men held most higher-paying positions, while women held the majority of lower-paying clerical and retail positions. Additionally, few women could access credit to start businesses.
There is a Department of Women within the Ministry of Home Affairs and Rural Development.