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 .
Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
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.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Attempted same-sex 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
The government enforced the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations 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” (that is, 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 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 on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTI 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 on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against LGBTI 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 the persons who made reports were reluctant to go to police because of fear of discrimination or police inaction. Other NGOs reported hostility towards LGBTI persons, including increased screening for transgender persons at airports.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Civil society, 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 same-sex sexual conduct between men disproportionately affected HIV treatment for subpopulations, such as men who have sex with men and LGBTI individuals, 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, with approximately 45 percent of adolescent mothers with HIV having been 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 the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Measures included training for health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitization of lawmakers and law enforcement officials; 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 experience discrimination. In rural areas or poor urban areas, there was less knowledge of the government services and programming available related to HIV.