Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. Although rape is a crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common. Prosecution times significantly improved during the year. Authorities reported a decrease in the backlog of court cases. The formal system addressed an increasing number of reported domestic and sexual abuses, but limited access to justice led some rural communities to address rape accusations through traditional law, which does not always provide justice to victims. The definition of rape under the penal code appears broad enough to make spousal rape a crime, although that definition was not tested in the courts.
The law provides protection and defense to vulnerable groups, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, against all forms of violence, exploitation, discrimination, abandonment, oppression, sexual abuse, and mistreatment. While many cultural and institutional obstacles hinder implementation of the law, local NGOs viewed the law as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their situations to police. Domestic violence offenses were the most commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system. Several NGOs that monitored the courts’ treatment of such cases, and those providing services to victims in such cases, criticized how these cases were handled, although there were significant improvements in the past year. Prosecutors routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults. Police conducted only the most perfunctory of investigations. Often the victim had to leave her home during investigation and prosecution of the case. Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. Finally, even after a case is successfully prosecuted, judges almost universally issued suspended sentences involving no prison time, including cases involving significant injury to the victim. During the year, however, judges sentenced defendants charged with domestic violence offenses to incarceration in at least two cases.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem, often exacerbated by inefficiencies in the justice system. The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes. Women’s organizations assessed VPU performance as variable but improved. Some officials actively pursued cases, while others preferred to handle them through mediation or as private family matters. Lack of support and resources severely constrained VPU operations. Police at times came under pressure from community members to ignore cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The PNTL disciplinary code allows the PNTL to impose disciplinary sanctions on police who commit domestic violence in their own homes, but the PNTL rarely enforced this provision. The government and civil society actively promoted awareness campaigns to combat violence against women, including rape.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity and women’s organizations offered assistance to female victims of violence, including shelters for victims of domestic violence and incest, a safe room at the national hospital for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and escorts to judicial proceedings.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There is no law specifically prohibiting FGM/C. The practice was not prevalent in the country.
Sexual Harassment: The labor law prohibits sexual harassment in the work place, but such harassment reportedly was widespread.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; 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. Economic and religious considerations limited women’s access to family planning information and education. The Ministry of Health and NGOs promoted both natural and modern family planning methods, including the distribution of intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms. Modern contraceptive use was low, however, due to the inconsistent supply of family planning commodities and a lack of health workers skilled at using long-acting methods.
According to 2011 World Health Organization estimates, the average maternal mortality rate in the country was 300 deaths per 100,000 live births. A skilled health professional attended 59 percent of urban births (those occurring in Dili) but only 21 percent of rural births. Access to emergency health care was extremely limited in rural areas, but management of abortion-related complications was provided where health care was available. Sixty-one percent of mothers received antenatal care from a medical professional, and 32 percent of mothers received postpartum care. The 2010 Demographic and Health Survey reported that lack of access to health services or skilled birth attendance were among the major factors influencing the maternal mortality ratio.
Discrimination: Some customary practices discriminate against women. For example, in some regions or villages where traditional practices are predominant, women may not inherit or own property. Practices such as payment of a bride price also occurred. The constitution provides for equal rights to own property, but traditional inheritance systems tend to exclude women from land ownership. Women pursuing employment faced discrimination based on marital status (see section 7.d.).
The Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality in the Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. Women’s NGOs worked under an umbrella organization called Rede Feto (Women’s Network), which coordinated the work of NGOs working on women’s issues and provided input to draft legislation on women’s issues, such as the Law on Domestic Violence. The Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality and the advisor to the prime minister for civil society coordinated and supported the work of Rede Feto.