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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews Marshall Islands’ reports

GENEVA (2 March 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined initial to third periodic reports of the Marshall Islands on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the reports, Molly Helkena, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands, said that, during its nuclear-weapons testing programme in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958, the United States had conducted 67 tests, the combined explosive power of which equalled to 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions every day.  Thousands of people had been exposed to high levels of radiation, the effects of which continued today.  It was a traditionally matrilineal society, explained Ms. Helkena, in which women were traditionally decision-makers and landowners; however, it was believed that the place of a woman was in the home while men should occupy the public space and be the breadwinner, thus positions of leadership and decision-making were regarded as male roles.  The Constitution recognized the right of all persons to equality under the law and prohibited discrimination based on multiple grounds including sex.  The legal framework had been strengthened with new laws on domestic violence, child protection, rights of persons with disabilities, and trafficking in persons, and the criminalization of marital rape in 2011.  

The economy was heavily dependent on foreign aid, in particular funding from the United States, with annual grant assistance channelled primarily towards education, health and infrastructure, said Ms. Helkena, adding that the geography of a large ocean State was a constraint and a major challenge in the delivery of basic services to the population spread across 25 atolls and islands.  The effects of climate change were great on the Marshallese people, particularly on women, children and disabled people, with particular regard to vector or water-borne diseases and accessing safe drinking water.  Key challenges going forward included a comprehensive legal reform in the context of the Agenda 2020: Framework for Progress, strengthening of human rights machinery in the country especially relating to women and girls, and improving the capacity of the police to enforce laws and more effectively respond to human rights violations, concluded Ms. Helkena.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Expert remarked that the Marshall Islands was missing specific anti-discrimination legislation, and urged the country to amend the Constitution and include a definition of gender-based discrimination.  They inquired about the measures in place to ensure that customary law was harmonized and in line with the Convention, and in the light of very few complaints of domestic violence, wondered if the mobile courts system was sufficient to ensure access to justice.  Experts urged the delegation to consider adopting temporary special measures in the forms of quotas in order to boost political participation and representation of women, and to address the alarming exploitation of Marshallese women by foreign nationals seeking a marriage only to obtain Marshallese citizenship and the passport which guaranteed a visa-free entry into the United States.  

Another area of concern was access to health services by rural women living in the outer islands, as well as the high cases of cancer and sexual and reproductive health challenges related to the United States’ nuclear-weapon testing.  Experts found that domestic violence, although prevalent, was rarely reported and that the Marshall Islands were a source as well as a destination for human trafficking, and urged the country to address the extremely high rates of teenage pregnancy.

In concluding remarks Ms. Helkena said that the dialogue provided a better roadmap to improving the lives of women in the Marshall Islands.  As a small, developing island state they were confronted with many challenges but were committed to progress and moving forward.

Magalys Arocha Dominguez, Committee Vice Chairperson, commended the Marshall Islands on its efforts and asked that the provisions of the Convention be followed and implemented.

The delegation of the Marshall Islands was composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs, Office of the President, Ministry of Health and Human Services, Public School System, and the Permanent Mission of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be the closing of the session, 4 p.m. Friday, 9 March.

Reports

The combined initial to third periodic reports of the Marshall Islands can be read via the following link: CEDAW/C/MHL/1-3.

Presentation of the Reports

MOLLY HELKENA, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands, in the presentation of the reports, welcomed the opportunity to engage directly with the Experts to gain an improved understanding of how to better address the many challenges facing women and girls in the Marshall Islands.  The Marshall Islands was a large ocean state spread out over an economic zone of two million square kilometres in the central Pacific, with a population of around 60,000 people.  Another 30,000 resided in the United States, with which the country maintained close political and economic relations through the Compact of Free Association.  Because of its geography, ensuring the delivery of basic services proved a major challenge - 80 primary and five secondary schools, as well as 54 health centres were spread across 25 atolls and islands.  Prior to gaining independence in 1979, the Marshall Islands had been under the administration of the United States under a United Nations mandated Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.  The United States had tested its nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958, and had conducted 67 tests, the combined explosive power of which equalled to 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions every day during those twelve years.  Thousands of people had been exposed to high levels of radiation, the effects of which continued today.

The Marshall Islands was a traditionally matrilineal society: women were traditionally the decision-makers and landowners, and were recognized for their significant contribution to development and well-being of families, communities and society as a whole.  However, as in many other Pacific States, those traditional beliefs and women’s customary rights coexisted with dissonant globalized gender stereotypes, gender roles and gender inequalities.  It was believed that the place of a woman was in the home while men should occupy the public space and be the breadwinner, thus positions of leadership and decision-making were regarded as male roles.  The economy of the Marshall Islands was heavily dependent on foreign aid, in particular funding from the United States, with annual grant assistance under the Compact channelled primarily towards education, health and infrastructure, said Ms. Helkena.  The effects of climate change were great on the Marshallese people, particularly on women, children and disabled people, with particular regard to vector or water-borne diseases and accessing safe drinking water.

The Marshall Islands were committed to the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality and the right of all persons to equality under the law was recognized by the Constitution, which also prohibited discrimination based on multiple grounds including sex.  The adoption of temporary special measures in the form of electoral quotas for women in the Parliament and the inclusion of sexual orientation as grounds for non-discrimination had been proposed as amendments to the Constitution but both proposals were defeated in 2017.  The legal framework had been strengthened with the adoption of the laws including on child protection in 2015, rights of persons with disabilities in 2015, and on the prohibition of trafficking in persons in 2017.  The Criminal Code 2011 had removed the exception of marital rape from prosecution, and the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2011 criminalized domestic violence and provided for restitution to victims.  Following the legislative review, the Government planned to have a new stand-alone anti-discrimination bill ready for submission to Parliament by early 2019.  

Turning to the gender machinery and institutional framework for gender equality, Ms. Helkena noted that in the absence of a national human rights institution, and the Human Rights Committee had a broad mandate to promote thee human rights of the people, while the Gender and Development Office in the ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs was responsible for the national gender mainstreaming policy.  Continuing, she said that, while girls enjoyed access to education on a fairly equal basis with boys at all levels, only 26 per cent of adult women were working as compared to 48 per cent of men.  Childbearing started early and was nearly universal among Marshallese women, and teenage pregnancy rates, among the highest in the Pacific, represented an urgent and ongoing challenge.  Violence against women was alarmingly high, with 51 per cent of women experiencing intimate partner violence.  In closing, Ms. Helkena outlined key challenged moving forward, including comprehensive legal reform in the context of the Agenda 2020: Framework for Progress, strengthening of human rights machinery in the country especially relating to women and girls, and improving the capacity of the police to enforce laws and more effectively respond to human rights violations.

Questions by Committee Experts

Opening the dialogue, a Committee Expert remarked that the Constitution of the Marshall Islands was missing specific anti-discrimination legislation, although in the report it was stated that key human rights treaties had been ratified.  The Constitution needed to be amended to include a definition of discrimination, with regard to discrimination against women.  What measures were in place to ensure that customary law was harmonized and in line with provisions of the Convention?

A national human rights institution had not yet been set up, while the establishment of a position of Ombudsman was also awaiting a referendum.  Clarifications concerning the status of these two recommendations, in regards to a timeline, gender equality mandates and resources were needed.

In terms of access to justice, Experts noted that few women complained in court about domestic violence due to factors such as lack of knowledge of the Convention, their rights, distance to courts and the cost of proceedings.  Was a mobile courts system sufficient to cover those needs and were training programs in place for members of the judiciary?

Responses by the Delegation

Concerning the Optional Protocol to the Convention, a delegate said the legal framework would be presented to Parliament this summer, and that a comprehensive review would determine the basis for the drafting of that bill and what elements it would contain.

In relation to the customary law, the delegate said the provisions of article 2 of the Constitution, which dealt with it, had not yet been put into practice.  The process for traditional rights in civil court required submission to the Marshall Island’s high court, which would then refer issues to the traditional rights court, which would then provide a recommendation, on receipt of which the high court could make a decision.

On establishments of institutions, the delegation said that a timeline for referendum to establish an Ombudsman would take place during the next Constitutional Convention, which wouldn’t take place for ten years, however in the meantime the matter could be included in bills.

Questions by Committee Experts

Turning to data collection, an Expert commended the Marshall Islands on their Sustainable Development Goals but said there was no specific means of measuring gender equality and women’s empowerment listed in the report.  Would laws governing the production of gender statistics be adopted with regards to attainment of the Goals?

An Expert noted that the gender mainstreaming policy was yet to be implemented.  Gender focal points were “anticipated” to be put in place across the board – what did this mean?  What was the role of the Gender Mainstreaming office, how it functioned and were women and men equally represented?

An Expert, pointing out that the report did not mention measures to increase the number of women in decision-making bodies, asked the delegation if there were any temporary special measures in that regard.  The Expert also noted that a quota for women’s participation was presented before the Constitutional Convention but that it was rejected.  Were there grassroots movements or other means to fast track women’s representation?

Responses by the Delegation

In reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, a delegate said that in May 2018 a streamlined implementation plan and action plan for health, education, justice and the establishment of gender focal points would be presented, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund and other United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

The budget for the Gender Development Office was two per cent of the national budget and was not expected to grow, the delegates said, adding that this was why the Marshall Islands sought out regional partners for financial support, as much of their funding came from outside groups.

A delegate described a social development programme that provided technical assistance and training for aggregated data and said it was helping to complete a gender profile so as to address budget issues.

The delegation replied that other channels were being explored to fast-track temporary special measures for women’s representation in decision-making bodies.  The term “temporary special measure” was relatively new to the Marshall Islands and there was a corresponding learning curve, a delegate explained, noting that the understanding in the country was that temporary special measures were to be implemented through the Constitution.  Therefore, the Marshall Islands would take other ways to include temporary special measures into consideration.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked for specific steps that had been taken to address gender stereotypes and how to change them, particularly in connection with harmful practices, such as persistent practice of child marriage and fixed roles of women and men within the family and society.    Was the media and its messages included in related Government’s efforts?

The Expert went on to note that domestic violence, although prevalent, was rarely reported.  A study conducted in the four atolls of Majuro, Kwjalein (Ebeye), Mili and Ebon revealed that 80 per cent of women experienced some sort of physical violence.  Furthermore, there was no information on internal budgetary commitments to help victims of domestic violence.  The Expert recommended that domestic violence laws be expanded to include sexual abuse by relatives, as there were indications it was common.

Responses by the Delegation

A delegate commented that the exodus of citizens to the United States had resulted in a breakdown of familial structure, thus resulting in higher domestic violence cases.  In addition, because the Government was so small, the assistance of non-governmental organizations was essential in matters such as these, as well as giving battered women and children access to shelter.

Every summer there were teacher trainings to help teachers identify victims of domestic violence victims and other human rights violations.  Perpetrators of domestic violence were prosecuted under the Criminal Code and not under the Domestic Violence Protection Act, which provided for special circumstances in which victims could contact a judge directly so that temporary special protection could be granted.  The Criminal Code did contain provisions concerning statutory rape and prohibited sexual relations between relatives.

In regard to gender stereotyping, a delegate explained that planning was underway to incorporate gender issues into the school curriculum.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of question, Experts remarked that the Marshall Islands was a source as well as a destination for human trafficking.  The report showed limited demographic data on victims of trafficking in persons, or the perpetrators.  There was also little information on the reasons why women engaged in sex work.  It was, however, noted that a national task force on human trafficking provided a forum for the discussion on the issue.  The Expert asked for more details about the related legal framework, statistics and measures taken to combat trafficking, as well as whether a comprehensive study would be done to investigate its extent and root causes.

Responses by the Delegation

The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act was passed just last year, said a delegate, adding that raising awareness of the Act and the concept of trafficking would take time and would require putting in place adequate measures.  

Trafficking cases concerning were referred to the police department, but only two had been prosecuted because the law had very recently gone into effect.  There had been no study into the root causes of prostitution or trafficking in the Marshall Islands; instituting such a study would be considered.

July 30 was the National Human Trafficking Day, and there were plans for a nationwide awareness raising campaign.  A standard operating protocol was in place to train teachers and police officers on the subject.

Questions by Committee Experts

Moving on, a Committee Expert said that, although there had been some improvements in the representation of women in decision-making bodies, including the election of the first female president in 2015, women remained underrepresented, particularly in the parliament and the judiciary.

What steps would be taken to increase the women’s representation, Experts asked and urged the country to consider adopting 30 per cent quotas for the representation of women in the parliament.

Responses by the Delegation

The Gender Mainstreaming policy, explained a delegate, was currently used to achieve gender equality in decision-making but there was much room for improvement.  The challenge was to reach women, particularly in rural communities, as the only means of reaching them was via radio, or when they commuted into the larger cities for training or information.

There was no solid plan to improve the position of women in decision-making bodies.  Prior to elections, Mock Parliament sessions had been put in place specific to women and it was hoped it would become common practice for future elections.  

Another delegate noted that governmental elections happened every four years.  Prior to the 2014 campaign, there was only one woman in parliament.  After those elections, the number went up to three, including the first female president.  By spreading the word that women could take up public office, an increase in interest in politics could be seen.

Questions by Committee Experts

Concerning equal rights to acquire, change or retain nationality, including in respect to children, an Expert was alarmed by the exploitation of Marshallese women by foreigners seeking Marshallese citizenship.  Foreign men married Marshallese women to obtain passports which allowed visa-free entrance to the United States.  Once the citizenship was granted, the children born from the marriage were taken away to the father’s home country and divorce proceedings were then commenced by the father.

Were there measures in place to address those issues and did women whose children were taken abroad by the father have any safeguards in place?

Responses by the Delegation

A delegate explained that the procedure of contracting a marriage in which one of both parties were foreigners, involved a check into their residence status in the country and the criminal background verification.  Once married, the foreign spouse had to remain in the Marshall Islands for five years.  

The country was concerned about this practice of marrying for the passports and was considering changing the law to address the issue.  The underlying motive was obtaining a right to a visa-free entry into the United States, said a delegate, adding that the naturalization provisions contained in the Compact of Free Association required the married party to reside in the Marshall Islands for five years before being permitted to enter the United States.

Questions by Committee Experts

Continuing the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts raised concern about the highest rate of adolescent fertility in the Pacific region and asked about programmes in place aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy.  

A pregnant student could remain in public school as long as her grades and attendance were not affected by her pregnancy, but no protections were mentioned concerning private school settings.  Also, there were no guarantees for school re-entry of girls after delivery.  What were dropout rates of pregnant girls and how much progress was being made on an age-appropriate education programmes on sexual and reproductive health?

The Experts also requested information about efforts to encourage girls to pursue non-traditional courses, and progress made in revising school materials to remove gender stereotypes.  Information was also missing concerning access to learning materials for women and girls in the outer islands.  

Corporal punishment condoned in schools would only perpetuate the act in wider society, Experts remarked.  

Responses by the Delegation

Replying to questions on education, a delegate commented that there were sanctions for non-attendance in school but there were still many children not in the system even though teachers and facilities were available.  It was difficult to encourage student’s parents to get them to attend; policing did not seem to help.

There was no official strategy to help pregnant girls to return to school after birth, but hey were encouraged to do so, said a delegate.  Pregnant women would sometimes take a year off and then return the following year after giving birth.  Collecting data on pregnancy was difficult, because parents would often send their pregnant daughters to the United States to give birth, girls themselves would hide their pregnancy so the data was evasive.  The National Board of Education was looking into cooperation from private schools on the issue of pregnancy but, since many were religious and did not condone pre-marital sex, the matter was complicated, the delegate said.  

In terms of sexual education programs, You to Youth in Health, a non-governmental organization, provided teacher training and awareness on sexual health in schools.  Human rights were included in that curriculum.

Corporal punishment was not permitted in school and was condemned under the National Child Protection Act.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert noted that over the last three calendar years, the number of women employed by the Public Service Commission had increased but no data was provided on those numbers in the private sector.  Did the delegation have those numbers?  Precision was also needed concerning progress in the areas of minimum wage and worker’s compensation legislation.  What steps were being taken to increase women’s employment and closing the wage gap?

Experts welcomed the introduction to the Parliament of the labour minimum conditions bill even though it was not totally in line with the Convention, and asked whether there was still an opportunity to review it and ensure it was aligned with the Convention.

The Expert asked that information be provided concerning maternity leave for private sector employees and how the pay scale set by the Public Service Commission was being reviewed.

Responses by the Delegation

On women’s employment, a delegate said that minimum wage was now three dollars, up 50 cents from the previous minimum wage; the increase had been approved in 2017.  Minimum wage was supposed to go up 50 cents every September.

The delegate explained that the labour minimum conditions bill aimed to introduce minimum working conditions in the private sectors as well, since up to now they only existed in the public sector.  The bill was currently with the Parliament and it introduced provisions for nursing twice a day, provisions addressing sexual harassment, and one month of maternity leave.  Sick leave could be used to extend this to two months.  There was still time to review the bill and align it with the provisions of the Convention, explained a delegate, especially as the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs was also the head of the Human Rights Committee and as such attended cabinet meetings, and could therefore urge the revision of the bill.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the health sector, an Expert noted that cancer caused by radiation associated with the nuclear testing programme of the United States had killed, proportionally, more women than men, while the impact on sexual and reproductive health of the women from four nuclear-affected atolls included giving birth to babies with birth defects, suffering high rates of miscarriages, and experiencing inability to conceive.  The Expert asked if there was more information available concerning women and girls affected by the testing?  Was the cancer prevention programme of 1983 still in effect?

The Expert also asked for specifics regarding maternal mortality, measures to address the high rate of sexually transmitted infections and information relating to abortions, particularly concerning spousal consent, unsafe abortions and whether it had been decriminalized or not.

Responses by the Delegation

The cancer prevention programme was still active, said a delegate and added that screening programmes were implemented in inner and outer island health facilities.  However, the delivery of those services was constrained by geography, and the Government tried to visit the 45 outer island health centres twice a year.  Visits to islands were an opportunity to deliver a comprehensive primary health services that included pregnancy and reproductive health, immunization, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases testing and all other services.  A programme called 177 was in place to deliver primary health services to the four atolls most affected by the United States’ nuclear testing.

In reference to the plan focusing on sexually transmitted diseases, a delegate noted that recently, the Marshall Islands had undertaken its first ever study of sex workers, in consultation with Women United Together Marshall Islands and it hoped this would create pathways to responding to those issues.

Responding to questions about abortion, a delegate explained that it could be performed if legally required and deemed medically necessary.

A plan was in place for adolescent sexual health care and it needed to be updated and officiated which would happen by end of 2018.  Activities related to sexual education were on going even though the update had not yet taken place.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert, concerned with the benefits available to women with disabilities, heads of households or part-time workers, and asked what rights they were granted under legislation.

There were many challenges to enhancing women’s economic empowerment in the Marshall Islands.  While there were no legislative barriers for women to access loans, women were still unable to access loans and found the process difficult.  What was being done to promote access to loans for women and was there advisory assistance in financial literacy available to women?

Was there training or skill development training to provide opportunities to women to help them improve their incomes?

The Expert went on to ask whether poverty reduction policies targeted women, particularly in the outer islands and what benefits did women have in terms of compensation for health side-effects directly attributed to nuclear testing?

Pertaining to sports, women were active in sports, it was clear, but what was available in the outer islands?  Were there social groups and clubs that could help women engage in sports activities?

Responses by the Delegation

With regards to nuclear testing and women’s health, the delegation explained that compensation was included in the original Compact with the United States, in the form of a trust fund of $150 million.  However, because of the 1990s market crash, the expected annual proceeds intended for the payment of the compensation did not come through.  Under the obligation to pay for personal as well as property claims, the Government had to dip into the trust fund, so the $150 million was no longer available.  This issue was being raised in perpetuity with the United States Government, and by submitting a Change of Circumstances Petition to the Congress of the United States in 2000.  The Marshall Islands was still waiting to hear on the petition.

Addressing physical education, the public school system had recently acquired the sports and recreation division with a new curriculum.  The outer islands had no formal sports programs due to limited facilities and so no organized sports could be found in those outer islands.

Developing the economic position of women was a priority area for the Marshall Islands.  In February, scoping studies had been undertaken in the country, one concerning women in agriculture and the other concerning victims of domestic violence, and it was expected that those, would help establish mechanisms and programs to improve the lives of women in those situations.

With respect to part-time workers, the social security act only benefitted employed or self-employed workers.  One of the changes to the social security fund was to increase the contribution of workers while decreasing benefits to those who were no longer working because the Government found that it was being depleted at an alarming rate.

Women in the Marshall Islands were able to access loans, explained a delegate.  From requests to micro-scheme loans dated 2017, seven females and 25 males were able to access and have those loans approved.  Nine women and ten men in rural areas were also able to get those loans.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert continued the dialogue by addressing the situation of rural women in the Marshall Islands. The “widely dispersed populations, remoteness and limited communications and transportations of the outer islands meant real constraints on the equal access and efficiency of service delivery.” How were limited public service offerings and infrastructure in the outer islands being addressed?

It was also asked whether measures were being taken to adopt a development programme targeted at rural women with specific regard to access to healthcare, sanitation, electricity, agricultural credits, transportation.

The Bikini Atoll, the Expert went on, was at severe risk from climate change; the State party was a country susceptible to tropical storms and typhoons.  Was there a gender perspective integrated into national disaster management, relief and recovery strategies?

Responses by the Delegation

The Ministry of Health ran outer island missions and provided nurses to support women with medical needs, explained one delegate.  The College of the Marshall Islands, in cooperation with the Government, aimed to bring in trained nurses to be sent to communities to address the health of rural women in outer island communities.

The Ministry of Health had also invested in eight satellite communication stations which were equipped with telephone, fax and computers to allow for a better transmission of communication concerning health issues, continued the delegate.  Radios were not closed systems so these stations allowed for a private space where needs could be communicated without everyone hearing about the health issues of private people.

Another delegate continued on the topic of women’s economic empowerment by stating that a One Island One Product programme had been launched in 2017 to promote locally made products.  Islands focused on a particular product they excelled at making, for example making mats or producing pearls, which allowed women a means to earn money.  A store located on the main island catered specifically to that programme and people from rural areas sent their products to that store to sell.

The Government was working on revitalizing the tourism sector by locating five rural places to build touristic sites.  One site, constructed two years ago, was known for its surfing, and so those were solutions to develop industry in rural places and provide income solutions for rural women, the delegate said.

In terms of the role of women in disaster relief, a delegate said that many women, including those with disabilities, took part in the national consultation on disaster risk and climate change.  The role of the disability office was to carry out the commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for which an implementation plan had been developed.  This Convention had also been translated into Marshallese, but there was no one currently in the Marshall Islands to fill a position to monitor and put the plan into action.

A system of social security benefits for older women had not yet been put in place, and, unfortunately, there were no subsidies set aside for this population of women.

Questions by Committee Experts

Under the Child Rights Protection Act 2015, the legal age of marriage for both men and women was 18, however the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration act of 1988 set the minimum age of marriage with parental consent for girls at 16 and age 18 for boys.

Was there progress in adopting an amendment to this Act which would raise the minimum age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18?  What steps were being taken to combat forced marriages and how would the State party assess the economic impact on women and girls of the fault-based legal regime on divorce?

Further expounding on the issue of divorce, the Expert wished to know whether women and men had equal rights to child custody during and after marriage.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation remarked that it was very difficult to collect data on divorced women and child custody, because the idea of extended family was closely guarded and divorce was a sensitive subject.  There were processes in place to work on capacity building in the different human rights offices to collect that data sensitively and in a way that the Marshallese would trust and permit.  It was also noted that the Gender Development Office was being enhanced in terms of its research capacity to this effect.

With respect to the question of the fault-based legal regime of divorce, a delegate said that faults had to be pursuant to the Domestic Relations Act, last updated in 2002.  This law contained a gap with respect to no fault, acknowledged the delegate and said that this concern would be addressed.  The Marshal Island had strengthened its legal framework, mentioned the delegation, citing adoption of several laws with respect to human rights, including laws concerning disability, child protections and human rights, all passed in 2015.

Concluding Remarks 

MOLLY HELKENA, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands, in closing, extended her appreciation and gratitude to the Committee and said that the dialogue provided a better roadmap towards improving the lives of women in the Marshall Islands.  As a small, developing island state they were confronted with many challenges but were committed to progress and moving forward.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, Committee Vice-Chair, commended the Marshall Islands on its efforts and asked that the provisions of the Convention be followed and implemented. The State party was requested to select certain recommendations and submit information on how they would implement those provisions.
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