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Executive Summary


In 2009, the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) in partnership with the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO) completed the first Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships.

This survey found alarmingly high rates of violence against women and girls in Vanuatu:

  • 60% of women in a relationship experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their husband/ partner in their lifetime, and 44% suffered from either or both of these forms of violence in the previous 12 months.
  • The prevalence of sexual violence against girls under the age of 15 is one of the very highest in the world. Almost 1 in 3 women (30%) said they had been sexually abused before the age of 15 years.

Seven years after this ground breaking study, UN Women commissioned research into Women and Children’s Access to the Formal Justice System in Vanuatu.

This Report analyses why an estimated 98% of cases of violence against women and children do not reach the stage of being charged by the police, let alone prosecuted by the courts.6 Why the recent death of the woman referred to in the case study that follows, is not an isolated incident.

The Report opens by summarising 12 Key Findings on why women and children’s access to the formal justice system in Vanuatu is so low and makes some recommendations on how this situation might be improved. The findings align with the views of most justice sector actors and civil society representatives interviewed for this Report. The recommendations indicate probable timeframes for implementation: (i) immediately, (ii) under twelve months, and (iii) over a longer time frame.

Part One

of the Report outlines the methodology and timeframe followed in conducting the research.

Part Two

analyses certain socio-demographic indicators for women and children in Vanuatu and the implications these have for their access to the formal justice system.

Part Three

analyses case data from the police, prosecution, courts and the VWC over the past 3–5 years and presents a picture of the 2% of violence and matrimonial cases that are dealt with by the formal justice system. This section also makes recommendations on improving the quality of (i) data captured by formal justice sector agencies, and (ii) public reporting on violence against women and children by formal justice sector agencies in their Annual Reports.

Part Four

of the Report gives an overview of the barriers women and children face in accessing the formal justice system and how these may be addressed. This Part is based on structured interviews with judicial officers, police officers, the prosecution service, state lawyers, as well as counsellors and program officers of the VWC.

Part Five

presents existing budget and human resources allocated to formal justice sector agencies. It shows the impact of inadequate resourcing of the sector on access to justice for women and children. Part Six addresses disability inclusion issues for women and children’s access to the formal justice system