Last Updated 27 January 2022

Tuvalu is a parliamentary democracy located midway between Hawaii and Australia in the Pacific Ocean. The islands of Tuvalu are no more than fifteen feet above sea level, and the islands are often the victim of cyclones. Rising sea levels also threaten the nation.1https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/will-tuvalu-disappear-beneath-the-sea-180940704/

As of 2020, Tuvalu’s population was 11,792 million.2https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=TV The majority of the population (around 97%) is affiliated with the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu or EKT. Seventh-day Adventists make up 1.4% of the population, and 1% are part of the Baha’i faith. There are also some Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.3https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

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Constitution and government

The Constitution4https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/3899/95791/F656430737/TUV3899.pdf and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. Most of these rights are protected in practice, although there are some restrictions on religious organizations, including limiting minority religious groups ability to gather.5https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

The Constitution provides for separation of church and state; however, the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu (in Tuvaluan, Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu, or EKT) is by law the state church, although the main benefit of this status is “the privilege of performing special services on major national events.”6https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

The preamble of the Constitution states the country is “an independent State based on Christian principles, the Rule of Law, and Tuvaluan custom and tradition”, while the Principles of the Constitution underscore that the right of Tuvaluans to “a full, free and happy life, and to moral, spiritual, personal and material welfare” are rights that are “given to them by God.”7https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Tuvalu_1986.pdf?lang=en

Government ceremonies at the national level, such as the opening of parliament, and at the island-council level, often include Christian prayers and clergy.8https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

The Religious Organizations Restriction Act9http://ilo.org/dyn/natlex/natlex4.detail?p_lang=en&p_isn=89619&p_count=96232 places some limits on religious organizations. For example, any new religious group must register with the government or face prosecution, and all religious groups in the country must also register with and obtain approval from the traditional elder councils, known as Falekaupule, of any island on which they conduct services.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/ The act also allows the Falekaupule to withhold permission to certain religious groups to meet publicly should they be locally judged to “directly threaten the values and culture of the island community.” These powers have been used to discourage meetings of some minority religious groups.11https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

Education and children’s rights

According to a 2017 UNICEF report on the status of children in Tuvalu, there are 30 schools on the island including 18 early childhood and care centres, 10 primary schools, and 2 secondary schools. Of the 10 primary schools, most are state run, while one is run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Of the two secondary schools, one is faith based and receives a government grant while the other is run by the government.12https://www.unicef.org/pacificislands/media/1266/file/Situation-Analysis-of-Children-Tuvalu.pdf

The Marriage Act of 200813http://tuvalu-legislation.tv/cms/images/LEGISLATION/PRINCIPAL/1967/1967-0008/MarriageAct_1.pdf outlawed marriage of children under the age of 16. Female genital mutilation (FGM) does not appear to be common practice in Tuvalu.

Family, community and society

Sex between men is criminalized in Section 153 of the Penal Code,14https://tuvalu-legislation.tv/cms/images/LEGISLATION/PRINCIPAL/1965/1965-0007/PenalCode_1.pdf the punishment being fourteen years of imprisonment.15https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/tuvalu/ Yet there are no reports of enforcement of this law.16https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/TUVALU-2020-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf

Marital rape is not criminalized in Tuvalu.17https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/countries/fiji/co/tuvalu Over one-third of women in Tuvalu have experienced physical violence, while 21% of women have experienced sexual violence.18https://www.borgenmagazine.com/womens-empowerment-in-tuvalu/

The EKT does exert influence in the community, including by limiting activities on Sunday and promoting modest dressing in villages.19https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression yet the government media department controls the only radio station and there are no local independent and private media sources.20https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/tuvalu/ While Tuvalu also guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly, island chiefs are permitted to restrict assembly for public worship.21https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/tuvalu/ Some religious minority group leaders have applauded the central government’s efforts to guarantee freedom of religion or belief but have noted that that message has been less effective in certain areas such as the outer islands.22https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/tuvalu/

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