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 latest World Health Organization figures, 77 percent of women and girls stated they had been victims of sexual violence. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. First-degree rape--defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape 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. Defendants accused of first-degree rape may be denied bail if evidence presented at arraignment meets certain evidentiary standards.
The Women’s and Children’s Protection Section (WACPS) of the LNP investigated 188 reported cases of rape, of which 59 were referred to a specialized sexual violence court (Court E), which 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, but a second resident judge assumed duties in October. A few of the 59 cases referred to Court E during the year were forwarded to criminal court (Court C) for further judicial review, and all eight prosecutions during the year resulted in conviction and sentences ranging from one to seven years’ imprisonment. The Sexual and Gender-based Crimes Unit within the Ministry of Justice has improved case management and increased the number of sexual offense indictments from 16 in 2014 to 147 during the year.
The Sexual and Gender-based Crimes Unit continued to coordinate with Court E and to collaborate with NGOs and international donors to increase public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence issues; these efforts, according to the government and NGOs, led to increased reporting of rape. Despite increased reporting, however, human rights groups claimed the true prevalence of rape was still higher than reported, since many cases go unreported.
The government runs a shelter for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) victims and victims of trafficking in persons, and established two hotlines for citizens to report SGBV-related crimes. 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 social stigma of rape, especially in rural areas, contributed to the pervasiveness of out-of-court settlements and discouraged formal prosecution of cases. An overtaxed 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 rape through billboards, radio broadcasts, and other outreach campaigns.
Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem. 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.
During the year the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP) organized workshops and seminars to combat domestic violence. Media made some efforts to publicize the problem, and several NGOs continued programs to treat abused women and girls and to increase public awareness of their rights. LNP officers received training on sexual offenses as part of their initial training.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C, although the government maintained that a 2011 law protecting children against all forms of violence also proscribes FGM/C. FGM/C is often performed during initiation into women’s secret Sande societies. Given the sensitivity of the topic, FGM/C surveys typically eliminate direct reference to FGM/C and instead ask respondents about initiation into a women’s secret society, making it difficult to ascertain actual prevalence rates. According to a 2013 demographic health survey, 49.8 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 had undergone the procedure. FGM/C was common and traditionally performed on young girls of northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas and in the poorest households, and government officials routinely engaged with traditional leaders to underscore its commitment to eliminating FGM/C. The percentage of women and girls ages 15 to 49 who experienced some form of FGM/C ranged from 73 percent in the North Central to 28 percent in the South Eastern region. Government officials, including the president, minister of internal affairs (as overseer of traditional culture) and the minister of gender, children, and social protection spoke out against the practice, and convinced 100 headwomen of “bush schools” to sign a memorandum of understanding to ban FGM/C. The government also routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, although there remained some political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C because of its association with particular tribes in populous counties.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically 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: No laws restrict couples and individuals from deciding the number, spacing, and timing of their children or managing their reproductive health, 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 impeded family planning efforts. The teenage pregnancy rate remained very high.
According to the UN Population Fund’s 2015 Trends in Maternal Mortality Report, the country had a maternal mortality rate estimated at 725 per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 28. 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. Most women delivered outside of health facilities.
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, have the right of equal access to education, 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. Programs to educate traditional leaders about women’s rights made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights.
The law does not prohibit discrimination in hiring based on gender, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions resisting their employment outside the home in rural areas. The MOGCSP and related government programs and partnerships with NGOs promoted women in the economic sector through such initiatives as workshops on networking, entrepreneurial skills, and microcredit lending.
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 MOGCSP and the Women, Peace, and Security Secretariat (established within the MOGCSP to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325) generally are responsible for promoting women’s rights.