Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In national elections on September 3, the Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, won 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.
The Ministry of National Security is the bureaucratic home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy over 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. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: numerous reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious corruption by officials; lack of accountability for violence against women; and sex and labor trafficking. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, but 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.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 only a maximum of 10 years in prison. This strict definition created wide discrepancies between cases that otherwise had similar elements of rape. The government tried to enforce the law effectively 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.
According to estimates by the Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit, there were 411 rape cases reported through November, approximately a 14 percent reduction from the same period in 2019. 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.
The country had an extremely high rate of female homicides, with 11 of every 100,000 women killed annually. Based on estimates from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, one in five women ages 15 to 24 experienced partner 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. 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 in the country.
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) provided similar services for children, although both the VSU and CPFSA were critically understaffed and lacked sufficient capacity to provide comprehensive care to the populations they served. There was an insufficient number of shelters in the capital area for women and children, and even fewer were available outside the capital area, or for males. Police officers and first responders had limited training about services available to crime victims.
Extended periods of quarantine and stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19 led to worries of an increase in violence against women and children. The Ministry of Health and Wellness therefore included gender-based violence sensitization training for all COVID-19 support hotline volunteers.
Sexual Harassment: No legislation addresses sexual harassment, and no legal remedy exists for victims. One in four women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. LGBTI individuals faced significant challenges due to social pressure and social stigma. Abortion remained illegal, leading many to seek out unsafe, clandestine services. Spousal rape continued to be explicitly excluded from legal definitions of rape (see Section 6, Rape and Domestic Violence against Women).
Access to contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth was available, although limited in impoverished or rural communities. Social and religious pressure against contraceptive use also created significant barriers for women. The National Family Planning Board found that in 2008, 79 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the law provides for 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. 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, including neglect. The penalty is a potentially large fine or a prison sentence with hard labor for a period not to exceed three months. The CPFSA stated that more than 14,000 incidents of abuse were reported in 2019. Corporal punishment is illegal in “places of safety” for children, including residential child-care facilities, children’s correctional facilities, and most schools; however, it was frequently practiced.
The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse, whether physical, psychological, or sexual, to make a report to the registry office, with 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. 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 witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace.
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. Children have fewer legal protections than adults concerning sexual assault, as criminal “sexual intercourse with a person under sixteen” is defined only as penile penetration of the vagina. A person who commits anal rape of a child is punished by 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. Cases were widespread and varied. For example, in August two men were arrested and charged with rape, sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16, abduction, and grievous sexual assault following allegations that they took their victim from Kingston to a residence in Portmore to have sexual intercourse.
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 .
Persons with Disabilities
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, communications, transportation, and other services due to the lack of accessible facilities. In September, Kojo Dawes won a Supreme Court case permitting him judicial review of a 2019 decision by the National Environment and Planning Agency to force him into early retirement following his loss of vision. NGOs indicated there were at least 10 similar cases over the past five years.
Insufficient resources were allocated for persons with disabilities. There were limitations in access to primary school education, although the constitution provides for the right to primary education for all children. There was also a lack of suitably trained faculty 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.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form or join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law does not provide for the right to strike, although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to reinstate a worker for unjustified dismissal. The law makes it a criminal offense to prevent or deter a worker from exercising the right to participate in trade union activities or to dismiss, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against a worker for exercising these rights.
Aspects of the law inhibit the ability of some workers to organize. The government defines the following 10 categories of services as “essential”: water, electricity, health, hospital, sanitation, transportation, firefighting, corrections, overseas telecommunication, and telephone services. Before workers in these categories may legally strike, they must take their dispute to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and attempt to settle the dispute through negotiation.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns that the country’s definition of essential services was too broad. The government prohibits unionizing in export processing zones, which are industrial areas with special tax and trade incentives to attract foreign investment. The ILO expressed concern that penalties may be imposed on workers for their membership and participation in an unregistered trade union. The ILO also expressed concern that the government may carry out inspections and request information about trade union finances at any time.
The law mandates that in the case of doubt or dispute as to whether workers may exercise bargaining rights, the labor and social security minister must conduct a secret ballot requiring that a majority of workers vote. If two or more unions each represent less than 30 percent of workers eligible to vote, the minister grants joint bargaining rights to each of those unions.
The minister of labor and social security may apply through the Supreme Court to curtail an industrial action such as a strike or lockout when the minister determines the action may be harmful to national security or the national economy, or may have the potential to endanger the lives of a substantial number of persons. The minister refers such cases to compulsory arbitration. The IDT hears cases when management and labor fail to reach agreement, including those involving nonunionized workers.
The government enforced the law in most cases, but burdensome legal procedures allowed firms and other large employers to appeal and delay resolution of their cases for years. While cases should by law be resolved within 21 days, the tribunal took several months to decide most cases. Parties could apply for judicial review by the Supreme Court. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations, but large firms allegedly used their influence on the court and government to shape decisions.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the formal sector except in export processing zones. Worker organizations operated without interference, although the government maintained the right to monitor their activities. While employers generally respected the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, some labor unions reported that private-sector workers feared management retaliation against unionization. For example, it was not uncommon for private-sector employers to dismiss union workers and rehire them as contractors with fewer worker protections.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law also prohibits trafficking in persons but penalizes perpetrators with penalties that were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. A national task force on trafficking in persons continued outreach to sensitize citizens to forced labor and other trafficking violations. The task force also facilitated sensitization training programs for all levels of government, from police to prosecutors.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The vast majority of violators were not held criminally accountable; between April 2019 and March, two persons were charged with labor trafficking, and there were no convictions. The country continued to be a source and destination for persons subjected to forced labor, including in domestic work, begging, and the informal sector. Gang members subjected boys to forced criminal activity (see section 7.c.). Foreign citizens were compelled into forced labor aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters.
The ILO expressed concern regarding the law’s provision for the imposition of forced prison labor for seafarers in the case of disobedience, neglect of duty, impeding the progress of the voyage, desertion, or absence without leave.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the exploitation of children in prostitution, the recruitment of children into criminal organizations, and the use of a child for “purposes contrary to decency or morality,” but it does not further define these terms. The law includes occupational safety and health restrictions for children and prohibits night work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The minimum age for general employment is 15, with a strict prohibition on employing children younger than 13. The law permits children between ages 13 and 15 to engage in “light work.” While the Ministry of Labor and Social Security does not have an official definition for “light work,” it maintained a list of occupations acceptable for children ages 13 to 15. The government does not have a list of types of hazardous work prohibited for children. Those who legally hire children are not required to keep any records.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Most penalties were criminal and commensurate with those for similar crimes, but penalties for sex trafficking that allowed for a fine in lieu of imprisonment were not commensurate with similar crimes. Government surveys estimated that more than 53,000 children ages five to 17 were engaged in child labor, mostly in the informal sector. Government agencies did not inspect the informal sector, limiting the government’s ability to enforce child labor laws. Children worked in farming, fishing, and in public markets. Children also worked as domestic helpers in homes or in street work such as peddling goods, services, begging, and garbage salvaging. Some children were subjected to forced labor in these sectors.
Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. Girls, sometimes coerced by family members, were subjected to sex trafficking by men who provided monetary or material payment to the girls or their families in exchange for sex acts. Local observers reported this form of child sex trafficking may be widespread in some communities. Violent criminal gangs used children for forced begging; as lookouts, armed gunmen, and couriers of drugs and weapons; and for lottery scams.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, place of origin, social class, skin color, religion, and political opinion. The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Policy from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV status. There were limited numbers of cases filed for discrimination in employment or occupation during the year, but it was likely there was underreporting due to strong stigma in the workplace against older women, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTI community, and persons with HIV or AIDS. Those persons subject to workplace discrimination had little confidence that effective legal recourse was available to them. Although the law requires equal pay for male and female employees, salaries for women lagged behind salaries for men, and women were concentrated in lower-paying occupations. Persons with disabilities often lacked access to the workplace. There is no law mandating equal pay for equal work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was above the nationally estimated poverty line. Most workers received more than the legal minimum wage, while some minimum-wage earners held two or more jobs.
The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek and mandates at least one day of rest per week. Employers are required to compensate work in excess of 40 hours per week at overtime rates, a provision most employers respected. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The government did not universally apply the law that restricts workdays to 12 hours or less.
The Occupational Safety and Health Department enforced industrial health and safety standards under ILO guidelines as appropriate for each industry. It conducted inspections, investigated accidents, warned violators, and gave them a period in which to correct violations. The department took violators to court if they did not correct violations within given time frames. The law stipulates penalties and fines, and the minister of labor and social security has the authority to increase any monetary penalty.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Insufficient staffing in the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Finance and Public Service, and Ministry of National Security contributed to difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspections took place only in the formal sector.
Legal fines or imprisonment for workplace health and safety violations were not commensurate with similar crimes. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security gained compliance in the vast majority of cases by threatening legal action. The ability of defendants to appeal a case repeatedly in the court system dulled the effectiveness of penalties. The law has no provisions that explicitly give workers the ability to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to employment, although the IDT may reinstate workers unfairly dismissed.
In 2017 the Inter-American Development Bank estimated the informal economy generated more than 40 percent of GDP. Most violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector.