Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes spousal rape only under the following conditions: when spouses have separated or begun proceedings to dissolve the marriage; when the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or when the husband knows he suffers from a sexually transmitted infection. The law criminalizes sexual relations by an adult with a child–male or female–under the age of 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. The JCF reported 374 rapes through October 9, approximately a 19 percent decrease from the same period in 2015. The government’s 2015 Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica indicated that from January to September 2015, hospital emergency rooms received 948 cases of sexual assault, which was 13 percent of total emergency room visits.
The JCF Center for Investigation of Sexual Offenses and Child Abuse (CISOCA) comprised a multidisciplinary team, which included police officers, social workers, and counselors from the Victim Support Unit. CISOCA handled sex crimes and offered integrated services, including providing legal information. CISOCA officers received tailored training on sexual offense investigations.
The law prohibits domestic violence and provides remedies, including restraining orders and other noncustodial sentencing, but violence against women continued to be a severe problem and studies reported that domestic violence was widespread. Breaching a restraining order is punishable by a fine of up to 10,000 JMD ($78) and six months’ imprisonment. The NGO Woman Inc. reported that women frequently complained that police failed to treat domestic violence as a crime and take the required reports. The Ministry of Justice’s Victim Support Unit, and NGOs including Woman Inc., Dispute Resolution Foundation, and Women’s Center of Jamaica Foundation, as well as various faith-based institutions, offered counseling and other services countrywide. NGOs expressed concern that resources were insufficient for police investigations of gender-based violence and for counseling and shelter for victims.
Sexual Harassment: No legislation addresses sexual harassment, and no legal remedy exists for victims of sexual harassment. According to reports, authorities may use the Offenses against the Person Act in cases of physical sexual harassment and, under labor law, employers may be held liable for not providing a safe workspace, although through November 17 no charges were filed using either mechanism.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on modern contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and at delivery was widely available. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that 68 percent of women ages 15-49 use a modern contraceptive method, while 10 percent of women have an unmet need for family planning. Women have access to emergency health care, including for the management of consequences arising from abortions; however, the standard of care varied widely, especially in rural communities.
According to UNFPA estimates, 99 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. The major challenges to reducing maternal deaths in the country were the prevalence of unsafe abortions, inadequate public education, early pregnancy, violence, and HIV/AIDS.
Discrimination: Although the law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, women suffered from discrimination in the workplace and often earned less than men (see section 7.d.). Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Women sought jobs and served in almost every occupation in both the public and private sectors.
Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after August 5, 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. There is universal birth registration, either in the hospital at the time of birth or at a local registrar’s office if the child is not born in a hospital.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including sexual abuse, was substantial and widespread. NGOs reported that gang leaders, sometimes including fathers, initiated sex with young girls as a “right,” and missing children often were fleeing violent situations and sexual abuse. During the year the JCF implemented a “Child Interaction Policy.” The Office of Children’s Registry (OCR) receives, records, processes, and stores data relating to the mistreatment and abuse of children. The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse to make a report to the OCR, with a penalty of up to 500,000 JMD ($3,900) and/or six months’ imprisonment for failure to do so.
The Child Development Agency (CDA) under the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information provides housing and day-to-day care for orphans, destitute children, and those with unsuitable parents, and administers the foster care and adoption programs.
The Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) has broad responsibilities for reviewing laws, policies, practices, and government services affecting children, as well as providing legal services to protect the best interests of children. The OCA has an investigative function that gives it concurrent jurisdiction with the police whenever a child is the victim or complainant. The OCA also has the power to investigate government agencies and officials and to institute legal proceedings against agents of government. Through September the OCA received 253 complaints directly from individuals and an additional 350 referrals from the OCR. It conducted preliminary investigations in some cases and referred other cases to appropriate government institutions.
Corporal punishment is illegal in early childhood centers and for all children in state care, but it remained legal elsewhere, including in schools.
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 prohibits sexual intercourse with a person less than 16 years old, the minimum age for consensual sex. Sexual relations by an adult with a child under the age of 16 is punishable by up to life imprisonment. The law provides for a Sex Offenders Registry, which the Department of Corrections administers and police enforce. In 2015 the number of cases of persons reported to police for sexual intercourse with a minor was 769, a 13 percent decrease from the prior year. In 2016 through October 9, there were 306 reported cases.
The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and applies to the protection, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 JMD ($3,900). There were reports of children being involved in commercial sexual exploitation. The OCA investigated sex crimes when the victim was below 18 years of age. Depending on the case, the complaint was lodged directly with the OCA or referred to the OCA from the Office of Children’s Registry for investigation.
International Child Abductions: The country is not 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
While the law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, it does not mandate accessibility standards. The 2014 Disabilities Act, passed by parliament but still not signed into law, would provide for the “full and effective participation and inclusion in the society for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others” and establish a disabilities rights tribunal to hear complaints. Persons with disabilities continued to encounter discrimination in employment and access to schools, usually due to the state of the infrastructure, which limited access to buildings and provided few special facilities.
Limitations in access to education were particularly pronounced at the primary school level, due to insufficient access to facilities for persons with disabilities. There was also a lack of suitably trained faculty to care for and instruct students with disabilities. There were fewer reports of problems in secondary schools. Tertiary institutions, including community colleges, increasingly drafted policies to promote full inclusion of persons with disabilities. Health care reportedly was universally available.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MLSS) has responsibility for the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities. The council distributes economic empowerment grants of up to $50,000 JMD ($420) to persons with disabilities to provide assistive aids and to help them develop small businesses. The ministry also has responsibility for the Early Stimulation Project, an education program for children with disabilities, and for the Abilities Foundation, a vocational program for older persons with disabilities.
Maroons–descendants of slaves who escaped to the mountainous interior in the 17th and 18th centuries–considered themselves a group apart and maintained some cultural traditions distinct from those of the larger society. While formal education was not available within Maroon communities beyond the junior high school level, Maroons were able to attend high school in nearby communities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits “acts of gross indecency” (generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy) between persons of the same sex, in public or in private, and provides a penalty of two years in prison for the offense. There is also an “antibuggery” law that criminalizes consensual and nonconsensual anal intercourse, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. During the year the law was enforced only in cases of sexual assault and child molestation and was not used to prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. Homophobia was widespread in the country.
The NGO J-FLAG reported that through June there were 53 incidents of physical and verbal assault against 35 LGBTI persons, including 24 cases of physical assault, 11 of verbal assault, 12 involving threats and intimidation, one case of arson, and one case of harassment by a police officer. The JCF reports that most incidents involving the LGBTI population are not reported to police.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The most recent HIV and AIDS legal environment assessment for the country (2013) revealed a dramatic reduction of HIV prevalence among sex workers and that the country was close to eliminating the transmission of HIV and AIDS between mother and child. The country’s National HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace. Nevertheless, criminalization of private, consensual same-sex acts, sex work, and drug use continued to foster stigma and discrimination against the most vulnerable populations and impede their access to health information and services.