Merilyn Tahi

A woman walks through the door with a baby. She’s unmarried and wants the father of her child to help pay for its upbringing but he won’t.

To take him to court she needs 1000 vatu – about nine U.S. dollars –  but she doesn’t have that kind of money and if she can’t find it then her case won’t be heard.

“It used to be 3000 vatu,” said the Vanuatu Women’s Centre co-ordinator Merilyn Tahi.

“We are saying abolish those court fees because already that lady or that woman doesn’t have that money and if the court will not get her application because she can’t pay, then she loses out.”

Nearly 23,000 Vanuatu women in the 2009 census said they have been subjected to violence but between 2012 and 2014 police laid only 380 charges – less than two percent.

In its report Women and Children’s Access to the Formal Justice System in Vanuatu UN Women examined the Police, court, and legal services to see if proper support is offered to women and children who are victims of crime.

It’s the first of 14 reports to be done on Pacific countries and found the Vanuatu justice system is failing women.

This month Vanuatu celebrated 36 years of Independence boasting it is one of the happiest countries in the world but Ms Tahi said she struggles to share that sentiment.

Every day she meets women who have been beaten by their partner or want help to take legal action for child support.

Ms Tahi has been with the Vanuatu Women’s Centre since it opened in 1992 and said progress has been made to develop the status of women in Vanuatu but it is not good enough yet.

“There’s a high percentage of women that go through violence against women and children every day in this country so we cannot be smiling to say that we are the happiest country in the world.”

Statistics from 2009 show 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by their husband or partner with 44 percent suffering from one or both of these forms of violence in the past year.

It’s tough for women to get help.

“It is an issue that we have identified during our process with cases, that when women come, you cannot finish her case if she cannot access the courts and access justice for herself or the child,” Ms Tahi said. READ MORE