Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem. According to the World Health Organization, 77 percent of women and girls had been the victim of sexual violence. The law legally defines rape but does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. First-degree rape, rape involving a minor, or rape that results in serious injury or disability or is committed with the use of a deadly weapon, is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Judges have the discretion to impose less than the maximum sentence. Defendants accused of first-degree rape may be denied bail if evidence presented at arraignment meets certain evidentiary standards. There was a large backlog of rape cases, and defendants were often detained for years without trial and sometimes without indictment. The government and NGOs attributed increased reporting of rape to an improved understanding of what constitutes the crime. Despite increased reporting, however, human rights groups claimed that the prevalence of rape was higher, since many cases were not reported. The Sexual Pathways Referral program, a combined initiative of the government and NGOs, improved access to medical, psychosocial, legal, and counseling assistance for victims. The Women’s and Children’s Protection Section (WACPS) of the LNP investigated 188 reported cases of rape, of which 43 were referred to a specialized sexual violence court (Court E), which by law has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault, including abuse of minors. Court E’s effectiveness was limited by having only one of two authorized judges. A few of the 43 cases referred to Court E were forwarded to criminal court (Court C) for further judicial review. There were prosecutions in seven cases during the year, all of which resulted in conviction and sentences ranging from one to seven years’ imprisonment.
The sexual and gender-based violence prosecution unit within the Ministry of Justice continued to coordinate with Court E and collaborate with NGOs and international donors to increase public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence issues.
There were 58 WACPS offices across the country, 31 of them outside the capital. More than one-third of the 210 WACPS officers were female.
The social stigma of rape, especially in rural areas, contributed to the pervasiveness of out-of-court settlements and discouraged formal prosecution of cases. An inefficient justice system also prevented timely prosecution, although local NGOs pushed for judicial action and sometimes provided lawyers to indigent victims. The government raised awareness of the issue of rape through billboards, radio broadcasts, and other outreach campaigns.
The law outlaws domestic violence; however, it remained a widespread problem. According to the World Health Organization, 33 percent of married women reported experiencing domestic violence. The maximum penalty for domestic violence is six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively and generally treated cases, if reported, as either simple or aggravated assault. The government and media made some efforts to publicize the problem, and several NGOs continued programs to treat abused women and girls and to increase awareness of their rights. LNP officers received training on sexual offenses as part of their initial training.
During the year the Ministry of Gender and Development organized workshops and seminars to combat domestic violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law specifically prohibits female genital mutilation/cutting. There were no known reports during the year of FGM/C performed on women age 18 and over. It is typically performed on girls rather than on women (see section 6, Children).
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which remained a major problem, including in schools and places of work. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: There are no laws restricting couples and individuals from deciding the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and individuals have the right to seek and acquire information on reproductive health. Information and assistance on family planning was difficult to obtain, however, particularly in rural areas, where there were few health clinics. The government included family planning counseling and services as key components of its new 10-year national health and social welfare plan. A 2013 demographic and health report indicated modern contraceptive use stood at 20 percent nationwide, although some rural counties had rates closer to 10 percent. A 2011 government-led survey found that approximately two-thirds of women in similar rural counties said they wanted to use family planning methods. This discrepancy suggested that poverty, lack of government resources, and cultural barriers may impede family planning efforts. Teen pregnancy was also historically very high.
According to the UN Population Fund, the country had earlier in the year reduced its maternal mortality rate during the past 13 years from 1,100 to 640 per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 31. Reducing maternal mortality remained a priority of the government, and activities in past years included additional training of midwives and providing incentives to pregnant women to seek prenatal care and childbirth at a hospital or clinic. The majority of women deliver outside of a health facility, but with the outbreak of Ebola, many midwives left their stations to return home, leaving many pregnant women without proper care.
Discrimination: Women and men enjoy the same legal status. By law women can inherit land and property, are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work, and can own and manage businesses. Women experienced discrimination, however, in such areas as employment (see section 7.d.), credit, pay, education, and housing. In rural areas traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land. While progress was made through programs to educate traditional leaders about women’s rights, authorities often did not enforce those rights.
Women experienced some economic discrimination based on cultural traditions. The government, however, promoted women in the economic sector through Ministry of Gender and related programs and NGO partnerships--including workshops on networking, entrepreneurial skills, and microcredit lending. Women owned or operated many businesses.
While the law prohibits polygamy, traditional and religious customs permit men to have more than one wife. No specific office exists to enforce the legal rights of women, but the Ministry of Gender and Development and the Women, Peace, and Security Secretariat generally are responsible for promoting women’s rights.