Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, with punishment set at three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is younger than 18 years or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution. Rape reportedly was rare, although observers believed underreporting was likely. The country does not have a central crime database, nor does it release crime statistics.
Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and the detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.
The LWU and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a nationwide hotline for individuals to report incidents of domestic violence and receive telephonic counseling. According to an international NGO operating a shelter for homeless children, domestic violence was a key reason children left home to live on the streets of Vientiane. In 2013 more than 90 percent of human trafficking victims were female and more than 60 percent were younger than 18 years.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and punishable by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its frequency remained difficult to assess.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception was generally available, although contraceptive commodities were not widely available in rural areas and were often too expensive. The United Nations Population Division estimated the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women of reproductive age was 45 percent in 2014.
According to World Health Organization estimates, although the maternal mortality rate remained high, the country reduced maternal mortality by 75 percent. During the past 20 years, the maternal mortality ratio declined from 695 deaths per 100,000 live births to 197. Pregnancy and childbirth remained the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Key factors influencing this ratio included a lack of access to antenatal and obstetric care as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy. According to UN data, skilled health personnel attended just 40 percent of births, and very few medical centers were equipped to deal with obstetric emergencies, especially in small, nomadic, and ethnic villages.
Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women as for men, but in some areas and at lower socioeconomic levels, traditional attitudes and gender-role stereotyping kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of cultural-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas. The law requires equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.).
The LWU operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including conducting programs to strengthen the role of women. The programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes frequently were higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities. While rural women were responsible for more than half of total agricultural production, the additional burdens of housework and child rearing also fell primarily on women.
Provincial, district, and village subunits of the government’s Commission for the Advancement of Women have a mandate to develop actions to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.