Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for the failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussion of such matters.
The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. Spousal rape is not a crime. As part of the police curriculum, officers received specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to combat the problem.
On August 28, the parliament passed a Family Protection Act criminalizing domestic violence with punishment including three years’ jail time and/or up to $4,150 SBD ($564) in fines. Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common, and police confirmed that they received domestic violence complaints every week. In 2012 citizens filed 245 complaints with the Family Violence Unit.
In the cases of reported domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or cases were settled out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and to cultural bias against women.
NGOs conducted awareness campaigns on family violence during the year. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women. The Family Support Center did not have an in-house lawyer and depended heavily on the Public Solicitor’s Office for legal assistance for its clients.
In March 2013 the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) published international research suggesting that 67 percent of women and girls had either been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Also in March 2013, with funding from AusAid, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with civil society organizations and NGOs to build a network called SAFENET to provide services to rehabilitate victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Signatories to the MOU included the Ministry of Police and National Security, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs (Public Solicitors Office), the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the Family Support Centre (FSC), and the Christian Care Centre (CCC) of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law specifically prohibits FGM/C, and there were no reports of the practice.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued to increase and contributed to the perception of ownership over women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception and adequate prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care were accessible at all government hospitals and rural health clinics, and all nurses were trained to provide family planning services. According to indicators published by the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 35 percent of married women ages 15-49 used some form of contraception, and an estimated 27 percent used modern contraceptive methods. The UN Population Fund estimated 93 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Skilled health personnel attended an estimated 70 percent of births. Women and men had equal access to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active responsibility in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.). A shortage of jobs also inhibited the entry of women into the workforce. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. The Solomon Islands National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights, including voting rights, through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The Women’s Development Division within the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Children’s Affairs also addressed women’s issues.