Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but there is no provision criminalizing spousal rape. Police and the judicial system did not effectively enforce the law. The penalty for rape is 20 years’ imprisonment, with a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees ($5,600). Rape was widespread, but most victims chose not to report or file charges against their attackers due to cultural pressures, fear of retaliation, and the lengthy court process. Authorities had not reported by year’s end statistics on the incidence of rape or numbers of prosecutions and convictions for the offense.
The law criminalizes domestic violence, but it remained a major problem. Amendments to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) came into force on September 1, establishing a list of offenses separate from the criminal code, which was not the case prior to the amendment. The amendments redefine the term spouse to include unmarried couples of the opposite sex; redefine domestic violence to include verbal, psychological, economic, and sexual abuses; and empower police officers and enforcement officers to act on behalf of the victims, instead of waiting for a formal complaint from the victim. Although the amendments do not mention spousal rape, section 2.d. stipulates that a spouse cannot force or threaten the other partner into a sexual act “from which the spouse or the other person has the right to abstain.”
Domestic violence activists stated police did not effectively enforce the law. According to women’s rights NGOs, police were not always effective in protecting domestic violence victims to whom authorities had granted court protection orders. As of September 2, the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare recorded 3,776 cases of domestic violence, and police received 1,775 such cases. Although there are no statistics on the number of domestic violence cases prosecuted, authorities claimed that most reported cases were prosecuted. Authorities prosecuted crimes including assault, aggravated assault, threats, and blows under the criminal code, but law enforcement recordkeeping did not always indicate whether they were linked to domestic violence.
The law provides for protection and housing rights for victims, as well as counseling for the abuser; however, there are few shelters available to house victims. Anyone found guilty of violating a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act may be fined up to 50,000 rupees ($1,400) or imprisoned for up to one year for first time offenders. Under the newly amended PDVA, the penalty is 100,000 rupees ($2,800) and an imprisonment not exceeding two years for a second offense and up to five years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenses under the PDVA. The local NGO SOS Femmes reported women often remained in abusive situations for fear of losing financial support, and, as a result, few filed complaints against their abusers. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare maintained an abuse hotline and a website on legal protections for victims.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, which is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment was a problem, however, and the government was not effective at enforcing the prohibition against it. The EOC is responsible for investigating allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, a mandate formerly carried out by the NHRC.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Couples and individuals were able to access contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, which the government provided free of charge in government-run hospitals together with free essential obstetric and postpartum care.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution and law. The courts upheld these rights. Nonetheless, cultural and societal barriers prevented women from fully exercising their legal rights (see section 7.d.).
The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare has a mandate to promote the rights of women. The National Women Entrepreneur Council, operating under the ministry, is a semiautonomous government body established to promote the economic empowerment of women.
Women had equal access to education, employment, housing, government services, and could inherit land. Women had equal access to credit and could own or manage businesses. The law criminalizes the abandonment of one’s family or pregnant spouse for more than two months as well as the nonpayment of court-ordered food support.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory if one or both parents are citizens of the country. Authorities register births, and the law provides for late registration. Failure to register births resulted in denial of some public services. Differences in birth registration, and law policies and procedures, between girls and boys did not exist.
Child Abuse: NGOs asserted child abuse was more widespread than the government acknowledged publicly. The law criminalizes certain acts compromising the health, security, or morality of a child, although the government was unable to ensure complete compliance, such as in child labor cases. The state-funded National Children’s Council; the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare; and the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children provided counseling, investigated reports of child abuse, and took remedial action to protect affected children. The police unit for the protection of minors and the Family Protection Unit conducted public education programs on the sexual abuse of minors.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal marriage age for boys and girls is 16 years with parental consent. Forced or early marriages were not reported to be problems.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child prostitution and child pornography and provides for a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 100,000 rupees ($2,800) for each of these offenses. Child prostitution was nonetheless a problem. As of October 6, there were two cases before the court regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. Any person found guilty of statutory rape may face a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 100,000 rupees ($2,800). Sexual exploitation of children was a problem. On April 14, authorities arrested two men who sold a 13-year-old Mauritian girl to an Indian citizen for 4,000 rupees ($110).
The government assisted victims of child abuse by offering counseling at a drop-in center in Port Louis and referring victims to government-supported NGO shelters. Both medical treatment and psychological support were available at public clinics and NGO centers. For example, the National Children’s Council operated a daycare center in Baie du Tombeau to help single mothers of abused children find employment. A child welfare officer accompanied children victimized in prostitution to the hospital, and police worked in conjunction with these officers to obtain statements from the children.
Institutionalized Children: In its 2015-16 annual report, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children reported a case of police brutality in a shelter, from which six female teenagers were thought to have run away. It was later established that the girls were playing on the rooftop of the shelter and that police used unnecessary force to bring them down. In October 2015 daily newspaper L’Express reported that the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare opened an investigation of Vedic Social Organization, an NGO that manages four shelters for children, following complaints of child abuse, violence, and breach of contract.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 120 Jews resided in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.), education, access to health care, and the judicial system, or the provision of other state services against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Such prohibited discrimination includes access to transportation, including by air; however, despite the introduction of new buses, authorities did not effectively enforce the law with respect to public conveyances where, for example, high steps and narrow doors on heavily used public buses presented particular problems to persons with mobility disabilities. Many buildings also remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities despite a legal requirement for all buildings to be accessible for them. The Training and Employment of Disabled Persons Board is an advocacy agency promoting participation in the workplace for persons with disabilities and discouraging discrimination against them in either job recruitment or advancement. The law stipulates that persons with disabilities must constitute 3 percent of a workforce of 35 or more employees; however, authorities did not effectively enforce the law.
The government implemented programs to provide that persons with disabilities had access to information and communications, such as subtitles and sign language interpretation of news broadcasts. The state-run television station broadcast a weekly news program for persons with disabilities. The government did not restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic activities, although lack of accessible transportation posed a barrier to some voters with disabilities. The government made provisions to render polling stations more accessible to persons with disabilities and elderly persons by providing wheelchairs. Children with physical disabilities have the right to attend mainstream schools, but, according to students with disabilities and their parents, schools turned them away because they could not be accommodated. Children with mental disabilities attended specialized schools that received minimal government funding.
Pervasive poverty continued to be more common among citizens of African descent (Creoles) than in any other community.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not specifically criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. It criminalizes sodomy, however, among both same-sex and heterosexual couples. Sodomy cases that reached the courts almost exclusively involved heterosexual persons, especially as an aggravating factor in divorce cases. Authorities rarely used the sodomy statute against same-sex couples, unless one of the partners cited sodomy in the context of sexual assault.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) victims of verbal abuse or violence within the family reported such incidents to local NGOs, including Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and Young Queer Alliance. Victims generally refused to file complaints with police, however, for fear of ostracism or, in some cases, fear of reprisal from family members. Anecdotal reports from a local NGO found unemployment rates higher among transgender people, forcing them into prostitution. Following a complaint about the questionnaire used by the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life to prohibit blood donation from LGBTI persons, the ministry amended its policy and website in 2013 to indicate individuals who have had same-sex sexual activity could donate blood. There were anecdotal reports, however, that health officials still prevented LGBTI persons from donating blood. In April police officers arbitrarily arrested a transgender person for wearing women’s clothing. She was slapped, threatened, and later released without any charges against her. She filed a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission against the police officers. There were no further developments at year’s end.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law provides that persons with HIV/AIDS should be free from stigmatization and discrimination; however, there were reports of discrimination against such persons and their relatives (see section 7.d.). In 2013 the National AIDS Secretariat completed a study of 400 HIV-positive persons, which found that during the year, 26 percent of respondents reported having been verbally insulted, harassed, or threatened; 22 percent reported having been physically harassed or threatened; and 18 percent reported having been physically assaulted.
The local NGO Prevention Information Lutte contre le Sida reported continuing problems with breaches of confidentiality of HIV/AIDS patients’ medical records in public hospitals, including on Rodrigues Island. The NGO also reported authorities denied HIV/AIDS patients social aid due to the absence of appropriate referral doctors on the medical board of the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life, thus forcing HIV/AIDS patients to live with uncertainty.