Bahamas, The

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

The government reported 12 cases of shooting incidents involving police, including from previous years, pending with the coroner’s court. In a case in which an off-duty police officer allegedly shot and killed a man in Exuma District, the Royal Bahamas Police Force dismissed the officer and took him into custody. He was charged with manslaughter and denied bail.

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

The constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At times citizens and visitors alleged instances of cruel or degrading treatment of criminal suspects or of migrants by police or immigration officials. Individuals detained in jails complained they were denied access to medical care and food and were degraded through name-calling and homophobic slurs.

Impunity was not a significant problem. The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses. In June the police commissioner and the coroner’s court disagreed regarding who should investigate police-involved shootings.

Conditions at the government’s only prison, the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) facility commonly known as Fox Hill Prison, were harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, inadequate sanitation, poor ventilation, and inadequate medical care, although the government initiated some improvements. Conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre for migrants were adequate for short-term detention only.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate access to medical care were problems in the men’s maximum-security block, while inadequate access to clean drinking water was an issue in the men’s maximum-security block, remand, and the women’s block. The BDCS facility was designed to accommodate 1,000 prisoners but held 1,617 inmates as of December. Juvenile pretrial detainees were held with adults at the BDCS remand center, a minimum-security section of the prison.

The government stated it complied with its legal obligations to provide for showering, exercise, doctor visits, lawyer visits, and visitation. Among male inmates, only those in the medium- and minimum-security wards were allowed to exercise daily with the exception of weekends and holidays. Due to COVID-19, authorities limited nonprison food vendor sales and suspended meals brought by family members. Prisoners reported infrequent access to clean drinking water and an inability to store potable water due to a lack of storage containers. Maximum-security cells for men measured approximately six feet by 10 feet and held up to six persons with no mattresses, running water, or toilet facilities. Inmates removed human waste by bucket. Prisoners complained of the lack of beds and bedding. Some inmates developed bedsores from lying on the bare ground. Sanitation was a general problem, with cells infested with rats, maggots, and insects. Ventilation was also a problem, and some inmates complained of mold and mildew. The government claimed to provide prisoners in maximum-security areas access to toilets and showers one hour a day. The women’s facilities were generally more comfortable, with dormitory-style quarters and adequate bathrooms.

The availability of clearly labeled, prescribed pharmaceuticals and access to physician care was sporadic. Prisoners consistently complained that prison authorities did not take their health concerns seriously. Sick male inmates and male inmates with disabilities had inadequate access to the medical center. One inmate, who requested assistance for a series of medical complications, died at BDCS in October. The inmate’s family had been permitted to provide him with nutritional supplements and healthy meals until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the prison to restrict visitors. Absent outside support and adequate prison care, the inmate died in his cell.

In February a correctional officer beat a prisoner, causing a leg injury that required surgery. The government stated it charged the officer with use of unnecessary force and referred the matter to a disciplinary tribunal at the Department of Correctional Services.

Despite the suspension of visitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inmates were allowed to remain in contact with relatives via the inmate telephone system, the prerelease unit, and the chaplain’s office.

At the Carmichael Road Detention Centre in June, a group of detained Haitian migrants, frustrated at their prolonged detention, damaged fencing and conducted a short hunger strike. The government had suspended repatriation flights to Haiti due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten days after the protest, however, the government repatriated 75 migrants to Haiti, the first deportation since March. Eight asylum seekers remained detained for approximately one year while they awaited a government decision on their cases.

Administration: The Internal Affairs Unit and a disciplinary tribunal at the BDCS facility are responsible for investigating any credible allegations of abuse or substandard conditions. Despite media reports of abuse at BDCS, the government stated there were no instances of abuse or mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights organizations reported the government did not grant requests for access to the maximum-security block of the BDCS facility. Independent observers, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bahamas Red Cross, were regularly able to visit the primary detention center and speak with detainees held at the government’s safe house for mothers and children, including asylum seekers and refugees. The UNHCR office was vacant for the first half of the year due to staff turnover.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve prison conditions, including by introducing biodegradable bags for proper waste disposal, constructing 100 bunk beds, and installing flooring, air conditioning, and masonry in parts of the maximum-security area. In addition inmates noted repairs to water flow during the year and a reopened prison library. At the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, the government replaced floor tiles in all dormitories.

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. The constitution provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, although this process sometimes took several years.

Police officers generally obtained judicially issued warrants when required for arrests. Serious cases, including suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. The law states authorities must charge a suspect within 48 hours of arrest. Arrested persons must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours (or by the next business day for cases arising on weekends and holidays) to hear the charges against them, although some persons on remand claimed they were not brought before a magistrate within the 48-hour period. Police may apply for a 48-hour extension upon simple request to the court and for longer extensions with sufficient showing of need. The government respected the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. The constitution provides the right for those arrested or detained to retain an attorney at their own expense; volunteer legal aides were available only for serious felonies being tried in the Supreme Court. Access to legal representation was inconsistent, including for detainees at the detention center. Minors receive legal assistance only when charged under offenses before the Supreme Court; otherwise, there is no official representation of minors before the courts.

A functioning bail system exists. Individuals who were unable to post bail were held on remand until they faced trial. Judges sometimes authorized cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges; however, foreign suspects generally preferred to plead guilty and pay a fine.

As of July there were 73 complaints against police for abusing detainees, compared with 72 such complaints during same period in 2019. As a result of investigations, two officers were reduced in rank and one was required to resign. Other actions were pending the completion of investigations.

Pretrial Detention: Attorneys and other prisoner advocates continued to complain of excessive pretrial detention due to the failure of the criminal justice system to try even the most serious cases in a timely manner. The constitution provides that authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for a “reasonable period of time,” which was interpreted as two years. Authorities released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the understanding the person would adhere to strict and person-specific guidelines defining allowable movement within the country. Of the 1,617 inmates, 37 percent (598 inmates) were in pretrial detention.

The Department of Immigration detained irregular migrants, primarily Haitians, while arranging for them to leave the country or until the migrant obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, by the willingness of other governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and by the availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities aimed to repatriate Haitians within one to two weeks, but the COVID-19 pandemic impeded routine repatriation flights.

The government continued to enforce the law requiring noncitizens to carry their passport and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin, that the rights of children were not respected, and that expedited deportations did not allow time for due process. There were also widespread credible reports that immigration officials solicited and accepted bribes to prevent detention or to grant release. One individual, claiming he was born in The Bahamas, said authorities apprehended him and held him at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre for migrants before he bribed several officials to release him.

Activists for the Haitian community acknowledged alleged victims filed few formal complaints with government authorities and attributed this to a widespread perception of impunity for police and immigration authorities and fear of reprisal.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with criminal cases, and there was a continued backlog.

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and free public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Although defendants generally have the right to confront adverse witnesses, in some cases the law allows witnesses to testify anonymously against accused perpetrators in order to protect themselves from intimidation or retribution. Defendants have the right to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal.

Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided legal representation only for serious felonies being tried in the Supreme Court, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some accused lacked the means to advance their cases toward trial.

Numerous juvenile offenders appear in court with an individual who is court-appointed to protect the juvenile’s interests (guardian ad litem). A conflict arises when the magistrate requests “information” regarding a child’s background and requests the child-welfare social worker to prepare a probation report to include a recommendation on the sentence for the child. In essence the government-assigned social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child is also tasked with recommending an appropriate punishment for the child.

A significant backlog of cases was awaiting trial, with delays reportedly lasting years. The government suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering its efforts to address the backlog. Once cases went to trial, they were often further delayed due to poor case and court management, such as inaccurate handling or presentation of evidence and inaccurate scheduling of witnesses, jury members, and defendants for testimony. The judiciary took concrete steps toward procuring and implementing a digital case-management system to help alleviate the backlog.

Local legal professionals also attributed delays to a variety of long-standing systemic problems, such as inadequate coordination between investigators and prosecutors, insufficient forensic capacity, outdated file management, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there is access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Immigration enforcement activities slowed greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were sporadic reports of abuse. In one instance police were reportedly involved in a physical altercation with a 16-year-old boy inside his residence during an immigration operation in an informal settlement on New Providence.

While the law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, a police inspector or more senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause exists to suspect a weapons violation or drug possession.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women is illegal, but the law does not protect against spousal rape unless the couple is separated or in the process of divorce, or if there is a restraining order in place. The maximum penalty for an initial rape conviction is seven years in prison. The maximum sentence for subsequent rape convictions is life imprisonment; however, the usual maximum was 14 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Violence against women worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic due, in part, to lockdowns and curfews that prevented victims from seeking safe havens or other assistance. The government cited a 23 percent increase in recorded sexual offenses through September 30. The government conducted awareness campaigns and signaled it was pursuing stronger legislation. It did not implement long-standing civil society recommendations to address adequately gender-based violence but signaled it was pursuing legislation.

The law addresses domestic violence under the Sexual Offenses Act. The government generally enforced the law, although women’s rights groups cited reluctance on the part of law enforcement authorities to intervene in domestic disputes. The Ministry of Social Services sponsored temporary, privately owned safe-house shelters, but there was a shortage of transitional housing. The Bahamas Crisis Centre provided a counseling referral service, operated a toll-free hotline, and added a WhatsApp hotline during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in employment and authorizes moderate penalties and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. The government does not have any permanent programs on sexual harassment but conducted educational and awareness-raising campaigns and activities.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and had access to free contraception, free testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, family planning counseling, and subsidized pre- and postnatal care. Individuals generally had access to information and resources to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Barriers affecting access to contraception included limited access to sexual and reproductive health services on all but the two most-populated islands (New Providence and Grand Bahama) and conservative Christian principles that promote abstinence. While the age for sexual consent is 16, the age for receiving contraceptive and other health services without requiring parental consent is 18. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender. Women with foreign-born spouses do not have the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their spouses or children (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). In addition a child adopted by a married Bahamian couple may acquire Bahamian citizenship only through the adopted father, not the adopted mother.

Women were generally free from economic discrimination, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work. The law provides for the same economic legal status and rights for women as for men. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Birth Registration: Children born in the country to married parents, one of whom is Bahamian, acquire citizenship at birth. In the case of unwed parents, the child takes the citizenship of the mother. All children born in the country who are noncitizens may apply for citizenship upon reaching their 18th birthday. All births must be registered within 21 days of delivery.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates severe penalties for child abuse and requires all persons having contact with a child they believe has been physically or sexually abused to report their suspicions to police; nonetheless, child abuse and neglect remained serious problems, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Social Services provided services to abused and neglected children through a public-private center for children, the public hospital’s family violence program, and The Bahamas Crisis Centre. It also operated a 24-hour national abuse hotline.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although minors may marry at 15 with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual heterosexual sex is 16. The law considers any association or exposure of a child to prostitution or a prostitution house as cruelty, neglect, or mistreatment. The offense of having sex with a minor carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Child pornography is against the law. A person who produces child pornography is subject to life imprisonment; dissemination or possession of child pornography calls for a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

The penalties for rape of a minor are the same as those for rape of an adult. While a victim’s consent is an insufficient defense against allegations of statutory rape, it is a sufficient defense if the accused had “reasonable cause” to believe the victim was older than age 16, provided the accused was younger than age 18.

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.

The local Jewish community consisted of approximately 500 persons. 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, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, public buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The law affords equal access for students, but only as resources permit, as decided by individual schools. There were several special-needs schools in Nassau; however, on less-populated islands, children with learning disabilities often lacked adequate access. Special-needs schools on Grand Bahama and Abaco were severely affected by Hurricane Dorian.

A mix of government and private residential and nonresidential institutions provided education, training, counseling, and job placement services for adults and children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children. They attended school with nondisabled peers or in specialized schools, depending on local resources. The government tried to facilitate distance learning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic but faced problems in providing equal access.

According to unofficial estimates, between 30,000 and 60,000 residents were Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, making them the largest ethnic minority. Many persons of Haitian origin lived in informal settlements with limited sewage and garbage services, law enforcement, and other public services. Authorities generally granted Haitian children access to education and social services, but interethnic tensions and inequities persisted after thousands of persons of Haitian descent were displaced by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.

Members of the Haitian community complained of discrimination in the job market, specifically that identity and work-permit documents were controlled by employers seeking advantage by threat of deportation. After Hurricane Dorian, the government offered to replace lost immigration documents, including work permits, free of charge.

The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is legal. The law defines the age of consent for same-sex individuals as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual individuals. NGOs reported LGBTI individuals faced social stigma and discrimination and did not believe they were adequately protected by law enforcement authorities.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on HIV and AIDS status. The public school HIV/AIDS protocol advised teachers on how to treat open wounds of children and negated the need for teachers and administrators to know the HIV status of a child. While the societal response to HIV and AIDS improved considerably, there were episodes of discrimination and breeches of confidentiality.

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