Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by imprisonment ranging from 15 years to life. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation in lieu of trials for rapists. Despite the law, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence, was a serious and widespread problem. In a 2013 UN survey, 61 percent of men in one province admitted raping one or more women. A 2013 study by the Institute for Medical Research indicated 55 percent of women experienced spousal rape. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, this figure was likely underreported. Gangs used rape and violence against women as part of initiation.
Widespread sexual violence was also committed by police and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare. The law also gives legislative backing for interim protection orders; allows neighbors, relatives, and children to report domestic violence; and gives police the power to remove perpetrators from their homes as a protective measure. Implementation of the law remained incomplete.
Prison sentences were imposed on those convicted of rape, but few rapists were apprehended or prosecuted. The willingness of some communities to settle rape cases through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution made the crime difficult to combat. Traditional village familial networks, which sometimes served to mitigate violence, were weak and largely absent when youths moved from their villages to larger towns or the capital. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women in the country were struck by their partners, with the number approaching 100 percent in parts of the Highlands. The NGO reported there were only three shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, all privately run, which were often at full capacity and had to refuse women interested in counseling and shelter. The situation was worse outside the capital, where small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained the shelters.
Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged an increasing number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husbands or another woman.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued to increase. This contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal, and it was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experience harassment in comments, touching, and unwanted advances in public locations and in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Under the country’s family planning policy, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, violence, and coercion. The decision of the husband or male partner on such matters usually prevailed over the wishes of the woman. Although women did not face barriers to reproductive health care stemming from the law or government policy, logistical problems faced by the Health Department in distributing supplies hindered access. Medical facilities also were limited in their capacity to provide adequate services to the growing population. According to the UN Population Division, 29 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2014. The country’s estimated maternal mortality ratio exceeded 220 deaths per 100,000 live births. Skilled care at birth was estimated at 43 percent, mainly due to an acute shortage of midwives, poor accessibility, lack of adequate delivery facilities, and low levels of trust in public services.
Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life. Some women held senior positions in business, the professions, and the civil service, but traditional and deep-rooted discrimination against women persisted. Women, including in urban areas, were often considered second-class citizens.
Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposing sentences, and National Court justices frequently annulled such village court sentences. Polygyny and the custom in many tribal cultures of paying a “bride price” tended to reinforce a view of women as property. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans, although the courts have ruled that such settlements denied women their constitutional rights.
The Ministry of Religion, Youth, and Community Development is responsible for women’s issues and has considerable influence over the government’s policy toward women.