Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, held 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections on September 3, 2020, to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.
The Ministry of National Security is the ministerial home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy of the security forces. The prime minister has authority over the Jamaican Defense Board and as chairman of the board has responsibility for defense-related matters including command, discipline, and administration. He is the de facto minister of defense. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is the country’s police force. It has primary responsibility for internal security and has units for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. When the prime minister and Parliament declare a state of emergency, the Jamaica Defense Force has arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; significant government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence of a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the government did not enforce the law during the year.
The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there were credible reports that some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses were not subject to full and swift accountability. The government did not effectively implement the law on corruption. There were numerous credible allegations of government corruption, and there were officials who sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of a woman is legally defined only as forced penile penetration of the vagina by a man; it is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Anal penetration of a woman or man is not legally defined as rape and may be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This strict definition created wide discrepancies between cases that otherwise had similar elements of rape. The government enforced the law with respect to the vaginal rape of a woman but was less effective in cases involving male victims.
Married women do not have the same rights and protections as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria is 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 has a sexually transmitted disease. By law marriage always implies sexual consent between husband and wife.
Advocacy groups contended that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings. Based on estimates from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 23 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support to all crime victims, including crisis intervention, counselling, and legal advocacy. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the country, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. While observers stated that the VSU had well-qualified and trained staff, it lacked sufficient resources to effectively meet the needs of all crime victims. The VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs capable of providing services such as resiliency counseling and operating shelters, although overall NGO capacity was limited. Few government services sensitive to the impact of trauma on their constituents were available.
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency provided similar services for children, although the staffs of both the VSU and the child protection agency were too few and insufficiently trained to provide comprehensive care to the populations they served. There were insufficient shelters in the capital area for women and children, and even fewer were available outside the capital area, or for males. Police and first responders had limited training regarding services available to crime victims.
Sexual Harassment: The government approved the long-debated Sexual Harassment Act in November. This new law creates a legal definition of sexual harassment in private workplaces and public institutions. The law provides legal recourse for victims, including a Sexual Harassment Tribunal, which can receive complaints up to six years after an act of sexual harassment and is empowered to impose fines. According to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a regional think tank, one in four women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Access to contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth were available, although limited in impoverished or rural communities. Social and religious pressure against contraception created significant barriers to access for women.
Women had access to emergency health care, including for the management of consequences arising from abortions. The standard of care varied widely, however, especially in rural communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.
Discrimination: Although the law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and women encountered discrimination in the workplace. Women often earned less than men while performing the same work. Women were restricted from working in some factory jobs. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination based on race and skin color, but there are no laws or regulations prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity.
There were few reports of racial discrimination. While the population was 92 percent Black, some media sources reported incidents of colorism (favoring lighter-skinned persons within an ethnic group) by employers or against patrons in upper-class restaurants. The government did not investigate these incidents.
While the public-school curriculum includes robust discussions of race, there were no government programs designed specifically to counter racial or ethnic biases.
Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Children outside the country born to or adopted by one or both Jamaican parents, as well as persons married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.
Child Abuse: The law bans child abuse and mistreatment in all its forms, including neglect. The penalties are a large fine, a prison sentence with hard labor for a term not exceeding five years, or both. The National Children’s Registry received 9,229 reports of child abuse in 2020, a decrease from 2019. The law bans corporal punishment in all children’s homes and places of safety (government-run or regulated private institutions).
The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse in any form to make a report to the registry office. There is a potential penalty of a large fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both for failure to do so.
Corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Based on 2018 estimates, the NGO Jamaicans for Justice reported that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace.
Boys experienced disproportionately high levels of physical violence, including corporal punishment both at home and at school. A survey by the Planning Institute of Jamaica showed that boys were 2.7 times more likely than girls to experience malnutrition between birth and the age of five. Boys also experienced disproportionately poor education outcomes, with UNICEF reporting that 60 percent of adolescents not attending school were boys and that only 20 percent of tertiary education enrollees were boys.
Child, 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, which applies to the production, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a large fine. The law prohibits child sex trafficking and prescribes a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. There were continued reports of the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child sex trafficking.
The law criminalizes sexual relations between an adult and a child – male or female – younger than 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults. Cases were widespread and varied.
Also see Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
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/reported-cases.html.
Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not mandate accessibility standards. The law was not fully implemented. Persons with disabilities encountered difficulties accessing education, employment, health services, public buildings, communications, transportation, and other services due to the lack of accessible facilities. The government did not provide all information in accessible formats.
There were reports of violence against persons with disabilities. In July a man was arrested for the rape of a girl with disabilities at a government-run care facility for children with special needs.
Insufficient resources were allocated for persons with disabilities. There were limitations in access to primary school education, although the constitution provides all children the right to primary education. There was also a lack of suitably trained teachers to care for and instruct students with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities. Access problems were more pronounced in rural regions.
Civil society groups, international organizations, and government officials cited stigma and discrimination as factors contributing to low numbers of individuals being treated for HIV. The country’s legal prohibition of sexual conduct between men disproportionately affected HIV treatment for subpopulations such as men who have sex with men and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+), where HIV infection levels were higher than average. NGOs also expressed concern about the role of sexual abuse in the transmission of HIV to girls and young women; approximately 45 percent of adolescent mothers with HIV were sexually abused as children. Some individuals with HIV reported difficulty obtaining medical care, to the extent that some delayed seeking medical attention or traveled abroad to receive treatment.
The government collaborated with international programs to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Measures included training health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitizing lawmakers and law enforcement officials; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; improving legal literacy; providing 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 experience discrimination. In rural areas or poor urban areas, there was less knowledge of the government services and programming available related to HIV.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Attempted sexual conduct between men is criminalized, with penalties up to seven years in prison. Physical intimacy, or the solicitation of such intimacy, between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison under gross indecency laws. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.
The government generally only enforced the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. The government does not provide information as to whether the government prosecuted consensual sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery (anal sex) 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 anal penetration of a woman, child, or man is 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 based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTQI+ persons.
The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that it received a similar number of cases of discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year, compared with previous years. Many of the cases reported during the year occurred in prior years. Underreporting was a problem, since many of those who made reports were reluctant to go to police due to fear of discrimination or police inaction. A local NGO reported that officials within the government, including police, had improved their response to LGBTQI+ rights violations.