Last Updated 21 September 2023

Kiribati (officially pronounced Kiribas) is a presidential republic, which gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1979 and joined the United Nations as a full member in 1999. The majority of the population live on the largest island, Tarawa.

According to its 2020 census,1 approximately 98% of the population is Christian – the largest denomination represented by the Catholic Church (59% of the population). The non-religious account for 0.1% of the population. Other religious groups include Bahai’s (2%) and Muslims (0.1%).

Kiribati looks set to disappear entirely as a consequence of global warming.2 The nation comprises 33 low-lying atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution3 and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion, expression, and assembly (Articles 11, 12 and 13, respectively). These rights are generally respected in practice.

There is no state religion. However, the Constitution’s preamble states, “We the people of Kiribati, acknowledging God as the Almighty Father in whom we put trust, and with faith in the enduring value of our tradition and heritage, do now grant ourselves this Constitution establishing a sovereign democratic State.”

Additionally, governmental meetings and events often begin and end with an ordained minister or other church official delivering a Christian prayer.4

Religious groups with memberships of over 2% of the population are required to register with the government by submitting a request to the Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs. There are no legal consequences for not registering.5 Registered religious organizations are subject to an income tax exemption. According to the US State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, the government of Kiribati continues to administer “a small grants program for development projects administered by nongovernmental organizations and religious organizations.”6

Two islands in the southern part of Kiribati, Arorae and Tamana, uphold a “one church only” policy, apparently in deference to the first Protestant missionaries that visited the islands in the 1800s. Regardless of whether there is any demand, this may mean that the right to practice other religions is in practice restricted on these islands.7

Education and children’s rights

Article 11 of the Constitution provides individuals the right not to receive religious instruction or take part in religious ceremony or observance if it relates to a religion other than their own. It also entitles religious communities to establish and maintain schools, and provide religious instruction for members of its community.

The 2013 Education Act (No. 12 of 2013)8 states that a child cannot be refused enrolment at a school based on his or her sex, religion, race or disability. Article 20 of the Act also decrees that, “education in schools must be non-sectarian and secular, except where the Minister, acting, in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, has approved that education in the school is otherwise.”

There is no mandated religious education in public schools. However, the law permits religious education to be delivered in schools so long as no teacher is compelled to give or be present at such instruction against the dictates of their own conscience. Students who opt out must participate in a supervised study period. As such, public schools in the country allow a variety of religious groups, including Catholics, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mormons, to provide religious instruction in schools.9

According to the National Curriculum and Assessment Framework (2021),10 which applies to all schools be they government or private, students’ education is guided through five streams: Language, Mathematics, Science, Community & Culture, and Personal Development. Although the document takes pains to emphasize that “developing tolerance for the religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs of others is very important,” religion is clearly placed as an important part of cultural identity within the Community and Culture curriculum, with intended learning outcomes such as, “gain an understanding of their faith, believes (sic) and grow religiously throughout their life” and “gain an understanding of their religious belief to make Kiribati a strong religious nation.”

The Personal Development curriculum’s stated aim is to equip students with “the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make rational, informed decisions about their own lives and to develop personal responsibility and judgment in matters of values and morals.” As such, the focus of Moral education is on “the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need to make informed decisions about their lifestyles, including the values of family, culture and religion to which they belong,” promoting values identified in the Kiribati Constitution, learning “why it is important to be spiritually, morally and culturally healthy” and appreciate “the differences in individuals, cultures, religions, situations, contexts and to be able to perform/behave appropriately.” Moral education is taught from grades 3-11.

Family, community and society

Conservative religious influence on society

Representing 98% of the population, Christianity has a strong influence on social and cultural norms. Individuals’ strongly-held religious beliefs are reportedly affecting their willingness to accept the risks that climate change poses to the nation.11;;

We have found no reports of direct discrimination against non-religious individuals.

Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights

According to the US State Department’s 2021 Report on Human Rights Practices, “cultural and religious influences remained barriers to access and utilization of services.”

LGBTI+ Rights

Consensual sexual conduct between men is punishable by between five to 14 years in prison depending on the nature of the offense. However, there have not been reports of prosecution under these provisions for several years.12

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience, expression, assembly, and association. These rights may be limited by law “which is reasonably required” in the interests of public defense, safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others, however, they are generally respected by the government.13

According to the BBC:

“The government-run radio station and newspaper offer diverse views. Protestant and Catholic churches publish newsletters and periodicals; these are important sources of information.”14


Articles 123 and 127 of the Kiribati Penal Code15 criminalize “insult to religion” and “uttering words with the intent to wound religious feelings,” designating them misdemeanours punishable by up to two years and one year in prison, respectively.

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