Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of women is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The legal definition of rape is forced penile penetration of the vagina, so the law only considers rape of women. There are legal imbalances in the application of the law that led to unequal protection of citizens.

Married women do not have the same rights and protection as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria has been met: the act occurs after legal separation or court proceedings to dissolve the marriage; the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or the husband knows he suffers from a sexually transmitted disease. Legally, marriage implies sexual consent between husband and wife at all times.

Additionally, because the legal qualification for rape is forced penile penetration of the vagina, a criminal who commits sexual assault through anal penetration can be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This distinction created wide discrepancies between cases that had the same element of sexual assault at their core.

According to estimates from the Ministry of National Security’s Research Evaluation Unit, there were 442 rape cases in 2017, which corresponded to approximately a 16 percent reduction from the previous year. Advocacy groups, however, contended that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings.

Some cases occurred in gated, all-inclusive resorts on the northern coast. In each case reports noted a lack of action by the JCF, and no one was charged. Observers suspected that not all cases were reported, since foreign tourists could not stay in the country long enough to contend with a lengthy legal process.

The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support, crisis intervention, legal advocacy, and technical services. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the island, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. Furthermore, the VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs with capabilities such as counseling resiliency training, and shelters. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency provided similar services for children. Shelter facilities for women and children were insufficient and less available outside the capital area. Police officers and first responders had limited training to understand which services were available.

Sexual Harassment: No legislation addresses sexual harassment and no legal remedy exists for victims.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, women suffered from discrimination in the workplace and often earned less than men. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.


Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Persons outside the country born to or adopted by one or more Jamaican parents, as well as those married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law bans child abuse in all forms. Corporal punishment is illegal; however, it was practiced informally in the home, schools, and children’s correctional facilities, as well as when a child was under state care. The penalty is a potential fine of 250,000 JMD ($1,900) or a prison sentence with hard labor for a period not to exceed three months.

Legislation also criminalizes sexual relations by an adult with a child–male or female–under the age of 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse to make a report to the registry office, with a penalty of up to 500,000 JMD ($3,800) and six months’ imprisonment, or both, for failure to do so.

With regard to sexual assault, children have fewer legal protections than adults. The legal definition of rape is penile penetration of the vagina. Therefore, a criminal who commits anal rape of a child is punishable by only 10 years in prison. Similar to the situation for women, the distinction created wide discrepancies between cases that had the same element of sexual assault at their core. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults.

Informal corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Estimates from the NGO Jamaicans for Justice showed that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number had witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace. Nonetheless, the NGO noted that overall reported instances of child abuse trended slightly downward during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but children may marry at 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and applies to the protection, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 JMD ($3,800). Reports continued of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.


Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, it does not mandate accessibility standards. Persons with disabilities continued to encounter discrimination in employment and access to schools, usually due to the state of the infrastructure, which limited access to buildings and provided few accessible facilities.

There were limitations in access to education at the primary school level, due to insufficient resources allocated for persons with disabilities. There was also a lack of suitably trained faculty to care for and instruct students with disabilities, although the constitution provides for the right to primary education for all children. Health care reportedly was universally available but at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security has responsibility for the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities. The council distributes economic empowerment grants of up to 150,000 JMD ($1,140) to persons with disabilities to help them develop small businesses and 250,000 JMD ($1,900) per person for the purchase of assistive aids.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations and anal sex between men. Physical intimacy between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison, and anal sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation.

The government enforced the portion of the law that criminalizes anal sex, or “buggery,” only in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. Officials did not prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act, committed through penile anal penetration, of a woman, child, or man, would be punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights acknowledged that the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTI persons.

During the year major political leaders, including the prime minister and two of his senior ministers, stated they would have “no problem” for a gay person to serve in their cabinet. The JCF also published official policy guidance stipulating that the police force would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Nonetheless, the country was generally very homophobic with a culture of outward hostility toward LGBTI individuals.

The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that through June it received 17 reports of instances of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity against LGBTI individuals, compared with 15 reports in the previous year. It was difficult to obtain exact statistics, as observers believed these types of human rights violations were underreported.

Government agencies were often involved in acts of discrimination. In one instance a transgender woman reported being stopped by security officials at the capital’s international airport. Customs agents loudly and confrontationally questioned her gender. Security officers (two female and one male) then summoned her to a search area where they observed as she stripped naked. The officers made her hold various poses that exposed her genitals from different angles. The woman had been traveling to the country as an executive director of an NGO that focuses on transgender issues in the Caribbean.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society, international organizations, and government officials cited stigma and discrimination as a factor contributing to low HIV-treatment coverage. This especially affected subpopulations such as LGBTI and female sex workers, in which the HIV epidemic was more concentrated.

The government collaborated with the Global Fund to address stigma and discrimination. Measures included training for health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitization of lawmakers and law enforcement agents; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; legal literacy; legal services; and monitoring and reforming laws, regulations, and policies relating to HIV.

The law prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace and provides some legal recourse to persons with HIV who experienced discrimination. In rural areas there was less knowledge of what government services and programming were available.

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