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Jamaica

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future