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Human Rights in Marshall Islands
Flag of Marshall Islands Marshall Islands
Population: 57,738 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Majuro
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Marshall Islands Human Rights Report
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Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, place of birth, family status or descent, and the Government observed these provisions.


Spousal abuse was common. Domestic violence was not condoned in society, and most assaults occurred while the assailant was under the influence of alcohol. The Government's health office provided counseling for reported spousal and child abuse cases, but many cases apparently went unreported. Rape and assault are criminal offenses, but women involved in domestic violence were reluctant to prosecute spouses in the court system. Women's groups under the WUTMI umbrella publicized women's issues and promoted a greater awareness of women's rights. From March to April, WUTMI conducted a survey on spousal abuse. Preliminary results, which were reported in the press and discussed at a national WUTMI meeting, suggested that more than 80 percent of Marshallese women had been affected by some level of spousal abuse. The final survey report had not been published by year's end. Violence against women outside the family occurred, and women in urban centers risked assault if they went out alone after dark.

There is no legal age of consent. The law criminalizes only "forced" rape and does not specifically cite sexual assault, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. There was some national debate regarding criminalizing these acts; however, debate was hampered by cultural norms against discussion of these subjects.

Several highly publicized rape cases were not prosecuted due to a combination of factors, including cultural pressures, reluctance to press charges against relatives, and police procedural errors.

In September, the Nitijela made prostitution illegal; however, prostitution exists on the Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls. Organized prostitution was run by and catered to foreigners, primarily the crews of foreign fishing vessels. There were no specific reports of violence against prostitutes, although the Government assumed that it existed. There is no law against sex tourism, and none has been reported.

Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and was not considered a serious problem.

The inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying positions of importance in the traditional system. No instances of unequal pay for equal work or of sex-related job discrimination were reported. However, while female workers were very prevalent in the private sector, many of them were in low-paying jobs with little hope of advancement.


The Government showed commitment to children's welfare through its programs of health care and free education, but these have not been adequate to meet the needs of the country's sharply increasing population.

Education is free, compulsory, and universal through eighth grade. There was no difference between the attendance rates of boys and girls.

It was estimated that up to 20 percent of elementary school-age children did not attend school on a regular basis. In many cases, this was because they lived too far away from a school or their families could not afford the monthly registration fee (which varied by school but averaged approximately $10) or incidental expenses. The Government did not enforce the compulsory education law. Admission to high school is by competitive examination; not all children qualified to attend. The Government's enrollment report indicated that only two-thirds of those completing eighth grade attended high school. Of that number, 50 percent--or one-third of those who started elementary school--eventually graduated. There were only three public high schools in the country: One each in Majuro, Jaluit and Wotje.

The Government provided subsidized essential medical services for all citizens, including children.

Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses; however, public awareness of children's rights remained low. The law requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability as a consequence of making such a report. However, there were few reports and few prosecutions. Child abuse and neglect were considered to be on the increase. During the year, four cases of sexual assault against minors aged 7 to 14 were reported to the Attorney General. At year's end, prosecutions were pending in three cases; one case was withdrawn because the parents did not want their child to testify. In July, two young men who sexually assaulted an infant in 2001 were sentenced to 10 years in prison for child abuse and sodomy.

Persons with Disabilities

There was no apparent discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or the provision of other state services; however, there were no building codes and no legislation mandating access for persons with disabilities.

There were approximately 50 persons who could be medically defined as psychotic. When these individuals demonstrated dangerous behavior, they were imprisoned and visited by a doctor.

There were no reports of discrimination against persons with mental disabilities.

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Data Source: US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.