Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the law does not protect against spousal rape, except if the couple is separated, 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; the maximum for subsequent rape convictions is life imprisonment. In practice, however, the maximum sentence was 14 years’ imprisonment.
Violence against women continued to be a serious, widespread problem. The 2015 Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence reported a total of 2,390 incidences of sexual offenses, including rape, attempted rape, unlawful sexual intercourse, incest, and other sexual offenses, between 2003 and 2013.
The law recognizes domestic violence as a crime separate from assault and battery, and the government generally enforced the law, although women’s rights groups cited some reluctance on the part of law enforcement authorities to intervene in domestic disputes. The Bahamas Crisis Center (BCC) worked with police by providing them with a counselor referral service when encountering rape victims. The BCC operated a toll-free hotline in New Providence and Grand Bahama, run by trained volunteers to respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day. Governmental and private women’s organizations continued public awareness campaigns, highlighting the problems of abuse and domestic violence. The Ministry of Social Services and Community Development’s Department of Social Services, in partnership with a private organization, operated a safe house to assist female survivors. In November the Bureau of Women’s Affairs became the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and increased its staffing. The department was reasonably well funded and received grant funding from UN Women for special projects.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits criminal “quid pro quo” sexual harassment and authorizes penalties of up to $5,000 and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. There were no official reports of workplace sexual harassment during the year. Civil rights advocates complained that criminal prohibitions were not enforced effectively and asserted that civil remedies were needed, including a prohibition on “hostile environment” sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally 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.
Discrimination: The law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender, and a constitutional referendum on gender equality, including prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, was soundly defeated in June. Women with foreign-born spouses do not have the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their spouse or children (see section 2.d., Statelessness).
Women were generally free of economic discrimination, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work. The law also provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men; however, women reported that it was more difficult for them to qualify for credit and to own a business.
Birth Registration: Children born in the country to married parents, one of whom is Bahamian, acquire citizenship at birth. Those born to non-Bahamian parents, to an unwed Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother, or outside the country to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father do not automatically acquire citizenship. In the case of unwed parents, the child takes the citizenship of the mother. A constitutional referendum to equalize citizenship transmission for men and women was defeated in June. All children born in the country may apply for citizenship upon reaching their 18th birthday. There is universal birth registration, and all births must be registered within 21 days of delivery.
Child Abuse: Child abuse and neglect remained serious problems. The RBPF operated a hotline regarding missing or exploited children. The law provides 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 the police.
The penalties for rape of a minor are the same as those for rape of an adult. While a victim’s consent is insufficient defense against allegations of statutory rape, it is sufficient defense if an individual can demonstrate that the accused had “reasonable cause to believe that the victim was above 16 years of age,” provided the accused was under age 18.
Sexual exploitation of children through incestuous relationships occasionally occurred, and anecdotal reports continued to suggest that this was a particular problem outside Nassau. The Ministry of Social Services may remove children from abusive situations if a court deems it necessary. The ministry provided services to abused and neglected children through a public-private center for children, the public hospital family-violence program, and the BCC.
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 sex is 16 years. The law considers any association or exposure of a child to prostitution or a prostitution house as cruelty, neglect, or mistreatment of a child. Additionally, the offense of having sex with a minor carries a penalty of life imprisonment. Child pornography is against the law. A person who produces it is liable to life imprisonment; dissemination or possession of it calls for a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Institutionalized Children: Children as young as 10 years old can be charged as an adult or a juvenile before a criminal court. First-time juvenile offenders charged with nonviolent or lesser offenses faced detention and custodial sentences at the Simpson Penn School for Boys, Willie Mae Pratt Center for Girls, or the BDOC facility.
When a juvenile is arrested and taken into custody, if authorities are unable to contact a parent or guardian, police call in a social worker as a de facto parent. There was no protection to prevent juveniles from being shackled to, or transported with, adult offenders. The BDOC maintained a juvenile area at the prison facility; however, there was no strict enforcement of the sight/sound separation of juvenile and adult inmates.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The local Jewish community numbered approximately 300 persons. 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
In 2015 the government passed the implementing legislation for the 2014 Persons with Disabilities Act. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, health care, and access, and it gives businesses and public buildings two years to make needed access improvements. Although the previous law mandated access for persons with physical disabilities in new public buildings, authorities rarely enforced this requirement, and very few buildings and public facilities were accessible to persons with disabilities. The Education Act affords equal access for students, but only as resources permit, with this decision made by individual schools. On less-populated islands, children with learning disabilities often sat disengaged in the back of classrooms because resources were not available. Other legislation prohibits discrimination based on disability.
A mix of government and private residential and nonresidential institutions provided education, training, counseling, and job placement services for adults and children with disabilities.
The country’s racial and ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully, but anti-Haitian prejudice and resentment regarding Haitian immigration was widespread. According to unofficial estimates, between 40,000 and 80,000 residents were Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, making them the largest ethnic minority. Many persons of Haitian origin lived in shantytowns with limited sewage and garbage services, law enforcement, or other infrastructure. For example, a number of shantytowns on New Providence and other islands consisted of houses built from trash and discarded building materials, with few organizational, infrastructure, or sanitation measures in place. The government occasionally evicted residents and demolished some settlements due to health and safety concerns. Fires frequently broke out in Haitian shantytowns in Nassau, at least some of which were deliberately set, according to human rights organizations. Authorities generally granted Haitian children access to education and social services, but interethnic tensions and inequities persisted. Haitians generally had difficulty in securing citizenship, residence, or work permits.
In 2014 the government began conducting large-scale immigration raids in Haitian neighborhoods and increased deportations of Haitian immigrants. Members of the community, as well as human rights NGOs, argued that the raids were conducted without probable cause and were marked by verbal and physical abuse. An elderly, bedridden woman claimed that immigration officers stomped and kicked her in October, hospitalizing her for 15 days and rendering her permanently unable to walk. Witnesses also claimed that warrantless searches of homes were common during these raids.
Members of the Haitian community complained of discrimination in the job market, specifically employers seeking advantage by threat of deportation controlled identity and work-permit documents.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Activists reported that societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals occurred, with some persons claiming job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Victims had no legal recourse, as the law provides no protection from such discrimination. Although sexual activity between same-sex consenting adults is legal, the law defines the age of consent for same-sex couples as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual couples.
Activists reported that LGBTI individuals rarely reported abuse to authorities, often because of reluctance to reveal their sexual orientation rather than from fear of police harassment.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were high, but there were no reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on HIV/AIDS status. Children with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination, and authorities often did not tell teachers that a child was HIV positive due to fear of verbal abuse from both educators and peers. The government maintained a home for orphaned children infected with HIV/AIDS.