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Marshall Islands

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including by a spouse, is a crime with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault; the law is gender neutral, although there have been no cases of men alleging rape. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize it, to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and to provide support for survivors. Complainants can file for either a temporary or a permanent protective order, which requires that the alleged perpetrator keep a distance of 150 feet from the complainant. Temporary protective orders have a duration of 28 days. Permanent protective orders remain in effect until the complaint is withdrawn. The law also requires all citizens to report suspected domestic violence.

The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence was intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limits the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. Prosecutions for domestic violence were sporadic, and awareness of the law was low outside the capital. A general lack of capacity and resources hindered the prosecution of rape and domestic violence cases. Court rules protect women during testimony in rape cases, primarily by shielding the victim as witness from the accused, but human rights advocates reported hesitancy among victims to report these crimes to the police despite awareness-raising efforts. There were two reported cases of sexual assault and conviction in a domestic murder case.

Various studies have suggested sexual violence of all types is common but frequently unreported. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the high rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed violence against women was justified in many situations.

Government health offices provided limited counseling services when spouse or child abuse was reported, but there were no government shelters for domestic violence victims. NGOs continued efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. WUTMI, formed to advance women’s rights, partnered with government and other donors for its Weto in Mour: Violence against Women and Girls Support Service, which provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments. The Micronesian Legal Services Corporation offers free legal services to victims to obtain a protective order.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. The law was generally not well enforced.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to 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, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care was available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls. On remote atolls only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available.

The government provides sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. Although statistics were not available, observers said there was a disproportionate number of premature births to teenage mothers. Maternal mortality statistics were not available.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the female landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country. The government generally enforced these rights.

Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. There is no law on equal pay for equal work; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future