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.
In August 2014 Parliament passed a Family Protection Act criminalizing domestic violence with punishment including three years’ jail time and up to SI$4,150 ($564) in fines. In 2015 the government endorsed a new National Gender Equality and Women in Development Policy and a National Eliminating Violence Against Women Policy.
Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common, and police confirmed that they received domestic violence complaints every week. In September the local press published an article reporting that the police had received over 400 reports of domestic violence in 2014 and that 500 reports were received between January-August 2015. Police believed the increase was likely due to increased awareness because of community policing outreach and education efforts.
Police made efforts to charge offenders for domestic violence and assault against women. In 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.
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, manage their reproductive health, and have the information and means to do so, 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 the UN Population Division, an estimated 31 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraceptive methods. The UN Population Fund estimated 130 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2013 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.