Fiji: Protection available to women, especially single, divorced or widowed women victims of domestic abuse by relatives; police procedures at the scene of the incident/crime; availability of restraining orders and shelters; protection offered by criminal or civil courts; attitudes of the public, police, government etc. (1999-2000)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||4 October 2000|
|Citation / Document Symbol||FJI35364.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Fiji: Protection available to women, especially single, divorced or widowed women victims of domestic abuse by relatives; police procedures at the scene of the incident/crime; availability of restraining orders and shelters; protection offered by criminal or civil courts; attitudes of the public, police, government etc. (1999-2000), 4 October 2000, FJI35364.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df4be3110.html [accessed 12 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The following information on the situation of women in Fiji was obtained from Changing Lenses – Women's Perspectives on Media, published in November 1999 by the Manila-based feminist NGO Isis International.
Although there has been no conclusive national study, crimes of violence against women remain by far the most underreported in Fiji.
In fact, no national research on domestic violence has yet been undertaken. The in-house research completed by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre gathered information mainly from its clients. The information shows that one in four or five women is likely to be living in violent relationships. The FWCC plans to launch a nationwide research and survey to gauge the extent and prevalence of domestic violence in Fiji. When it does, it will be the first to launch a study in the country and will definitely set a benchmark for future research in the area of domestic violence.
Fiji does not have specific legislation dealing with domestic violence. Of the few cases that get to court, some are dismissed for lack of evidence. Those which win convictions secure only very light or suspended sentences of from one month to eighteen months imprisonment.
In 1996, in response to intensive lobbying by women's groups in Fiji, particularly by the FWCC, the police commissioner introduced a "No Drop Policy." This means that a charge of domestic violence cannot be dropped until the case reaches the courts. Prior to the introduction of the "No Drop Policy," most cases did not even get to court because the police pushed for reconciliation and tended to regard domestic violence as a private matter best resolved within the home. Even the courts tended to put an emphasis on reconciliation. Although this attitude persists, law enforcement officers are now demonstrating a more gender-sensitive attitude toward the crime of domestic violence.
Before the establishment of the Fiji Women's Centre in 1984, there were no support services available to the victims survivors of sexual assaults. Today, Fiji has three other women's crisis centres, a Sexual Offences Unit run by the Fiji police force, and the draft of a Sexual Assaults Bill prepared by the Fiji Women's Rights Movement which was submitted to the Fiji Law Reform Commission.
The draft Sexual Assaults Bill is a response to the need for reform in the law covering sexual assault.
Present legislation is inadequate. The legal definition of rape is limited it does not, for instance, include the forced use of such objects as knives or sticks by the attacker. In other words, rape is restricted to the forced penetration of a penis into a vagina. It also does not recognise forced anal or oral sex as rape. Nor does it recognise that there is rape within marriage or that a rape occurs when sexual intercourse is pursued even after a woman has stated that she wants it to stop.
Another major flaw in Fiji's rape legislation is that the victim/survivor has to prove that she has been raped. The "Law of Corroboration" requires that she proves rape by independent evidence. This independent evidence may be a witness, her own physical injuries, or medical evidence. Fiji law also allows a rape victim's/survivor's past sexual history to be raised in court whereas the accused rapist's past, such as previous convictions, cannot be raised in court until after the verdict.
In many cases, rape trials are held in an open court. Although it is possible for a trial to be held in a closed court, this has to be requested well in advance and is seldom granted.
Rapists receive very light prison sentences ranging from eighteen months to five years. Under Fiji law, the accused rapist has the option to ask that his case be heard in either the Magistrates Court or the High Court. The Magistrates Court has the jurisdiction to pass sentence for only a maximum of five years whereas the High Court can pass the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A request for the latter has yet to happen.
According to Fiji-police statistics, there has been an increase of rapes and attempted-rapes from 19 percent in 1982 to 30.5 percent in 1994. Rape and attempted-rape cases increased by 53.2 percent from 1993 to 1994. Official statistics, however, do not provide an accurate picture of the actual incidence of rape in Fiji. In truth, the general perception is that police figures grossly underestimate rape cases. Moreover, the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre statistics show that only 45 percent of rape victims/survivors calling on the centre reported their cases to the police.
The reluctance of victims/survivors to report a rape can be attributed to the following:
– Society's tendency to blame the victim for the sexual assault quite often, the victim is suspected of provoking the assault by having dressed or behaved "provocatively."
– The judicial and medical processes can be traumatic, often requiring the victim/survivor to recall the smallest details of the rape. Furthermore, the lack of sensitivity during police interrogation, the medical examination, and the cross-examination in court are strong deterrents to rape cases being reported.
– The publicity often surrounding rape trials many women are not able to cope with the stigma of being labeled "rape victims" or of having their sexual history brought up in open court.
– Fear of revenge or reprisal from their assailants, particularly in family-related rapes. The FWCC statistics show that there are more family-related rapes each year than are reported to the police. In fact, this category of rape is the most underreported.
– Culture--or the use by the offender of traditional methods of reconciliation in Fijian culture, bulubul, to obtain forgiveness for his actions and render him free from prosecution. Indian girls are even less likely to report a rape because of the emphasis put on chastity and virginity before, and fidelity during, marriage.
Fiji does not have any legislation on sexual harassment. Yet this is common, extremely underreported, and generally accepted as part of "traditional" Fiji male behaviour. There are also no statistics on the incidence of sexual harassment in Fiji. The Fiji Women's Rights Movement, as part of its Women Employment and Economic Rights Project, has launched a media campaign focusing on legislation to curb sexual harassment (Nov. 1999).
The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, in an 8 September 2000 press release, provides the following information on the situation of women since the 19 May 2000 coup.
The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre is concerned at recent comments made by Senior Superintendent Romanu Tikotikoca about police attending to urgent cases first (FT 7/9/00). We have all witnessed a general breakdown in law and order since May 19th and the increase in criminal activities. It is important for ASP Tikotikoca to specify what type of cases are considered urgent' cases. ...
Even in normal' circumstances, domestic violence and sexual assault are often treated with triviality. The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre has lobbied tirelessly for ... the appropriate and efficient treatment of women and children who are victims of crimes of violence by the police and the judiciary, and there has been some improvement over the years. We see all these gains being eroded with the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and the current crisis. We also believe that there will be a general erosion of women's human rights as the economic and social situation deteriorates.
The cases of domestic violence being reported to us have not abated, in fact they have increased and less and less women are reporting to police. Husbands may now beat their wives with impunity and mock their wives, claiming the laws are not in place. Reports to police seem futile because they have more important' cases to deal with. Domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes and it is important that they are given high priority. ...
Cases of crimes against women and children are also of low priority in the courts. Recent lenient sentencing on child molestation and the meager sentence of three years for the murder of a young woman in Lau by her husband are reflections of serious miscarriages of justice in our court system. Crimes of violence against women and children should not be given low priority during such difficult times, because they allow for an environment where these crimes may be further tolerated. ...
Additional information on the situation of women in Fiji, including the police response to complaints of domestic violence, can be found in Country Reports 1999. The same report also provides information on the Fijian justice system.
For information on the treatment of women divorced or separated from their husbands, please consult FJI34576.E of 9 June 2000.
The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and Fiji Women's Rights Movement were contacted but were unable to provide information within the time constraints of this Response.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Fiji Women's Crisis Centre. 8 September 2000. Press Release.
Isis International. November 1999. Changing Lenses: Women's Perspectives on the Media. Manila: Isis International. (NEXIS)
Additional Sources Consulted
Country Reports 1999.
WIN News [Lexington, Mass.].
Two oral sources contacted.
Internet sites including:
Human Rights Internet (HRI).
Human Rights Watch (HRW).
United Nations (WomenWatch, CEDAW, UNDP, UNIFEM, UNESCO, UNICEF).