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Barbados: Domestic violence, including legislation, state protection and support services (2008-October 2012)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 6 November 2012
Citation / Document Symbol BRB104226.E
Related Document(s) Barbade : information sur la violence familiale, y compris les lois, la protection offerte par l'État et les services de soutien
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Barbados: Domestic violence, including legislation, state protection and support services (2008-October 2012), 6 November 2012, BRB104226.E, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

1. Overview

Sources indicate that violence against women in Barbados is a "significant" social problem (US 24 May 2012, 8) and a "serious social concern" (Freedom House 2012). During a visit to Barbados in April 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that although domestic violence and sexual harassment occur throughout the world, they are "particularly serious problems" in Barbados and other Caribbean countries (UN 5 Apr. 2012).

A 2010 UN Development Programme (UNDP) survey on citizen security, in which over 11,000 male and female adults in 7 Caribbean countries were interviewed, found that 9.6 percent of respondents in Barbados had been subject to punching, kicking, or other physical violence by a household member over 16 years of age, which was similar to the region-wide average of 10.9 percent (UN 2012, 11, 29).

In 2009, the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) conducted a national survey on behalf of the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth's Bureau of Gender Affairs to determine the prevalence of domestic violence in Barbados (CADRES [2009], 47). Individuals were surveyed from approximately every third house in all 30 constituencies of Barbados, and interviewed regarding their knowledge of any domestic violence situations, rather than incidents that they experienced personally (ibid., 48). The survey, which eliminated 2.1 percent of cases that were deemed to be duplicate incidents based on the similarity of information, found that 27 percent of Barbadians were aware of at least one separate incident of domestic violence (ibid., 49, 51). Of those 2,769 cases, 86 percent were cases of violence perpetrated by men against women, 4 percent were by women against men, another 4 percent were adults against children, while the remainder were other types of violence (ibid., 49, 57). Of the cases of domestic violence reported by interviewees, the following types of abuse occurred either some or all of the time:

  • 95 percent of cases involved "striking with [the] hand";
  • 74 percent involved "striking with [an] implement";
  • 67 percent involved "playing games/tricks on the victim";
  • 58 percent involved "non-penetrative sexual abuse";
  • 55 percent involved "deprivation of food/money to buy food";
  • and 35 percent involved "penetrative sexual abuse" (ibid., 58).

According to respondents, abuse occurred: "regularly (daily/weekly)" in 37 percent of cases; "from time to time (monthly/every few months)" in 52 percent of cases; and "seldom (annually/once or twice)" in 11 percent of cases (ibid., 60).

Using police homicide statistics from the years 2000 to 2007, the CADRES report indicates that, on average, 21 percent of homicides in Barbados during these years were a result of domestic violence against women (ibid., 6). According to the Chairperson of the Service Alliance for Violent Encounters (SAVE) Foundation of Barbados, an NGO that provides services to victims of domestic violence in Barbados (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012), approximately 10 violent murders of women by men reportedly occurred in the first 10 months of 2010 (The Barbados Advocate 31 Oct. 2010).

The CADRES survey, which also interviewed representatives of state and non-state agencies about their perspectives on domestic violence, found that the economic situation, alcohol abuse, past abuse in childhood, and the "patriarchal nature of Barbadian society" were factors contributing to domestic violence (CADRES [2009], 16, 27). The Barbadian Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development said that domestic violence in Barbados "'is often fed by poverty, dependency, lack of education or capacity and the absence of empowerment'" (qtd. in Nation 30 Mar. 2011). However, sources note that the problem of domestic violence affects women of all stratums of society in Barbados (CADRES [2009], 14; Nation 19 May 2010).

2. State Protection
2.1 Legislation

In 11 October 2012 correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Chairperson of the SAVE Foundation stated that the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act is the current legislation in effect and that it has not been updated since 1992 (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). According to the CADRES report, the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act does not define domestic violence as a crime and it is only a chargeable offence if the perpetrator violates a protection order (CADRES [2009], 29). Otherwise, persons may be charged if the abuse qualifies as a crime under the Sexual Offences Act or another relevant act (ibid.). Some sources expressed concern that domestic violence is not a crime against the state (Nation 19 May 2010; SAVE 11 Oct. 2012), and that therefore the police "are not obligated to arrest the perpetrator unless the victim insists on pressing charges" (ibid.).

According to the CADRES report, domestic violence is defined within the Barbados context as "any violence between current and former partners in an intimate relationship wherever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse" (CADRES [2009], 17). The CADRES report notes that this definition does not explicitly include partner violence between intimate partners who are dating but not living together, violence perpetrated by adult children living with their parents, or cases of violence based on visual infatuation rather than intimacy (ibid.).

Barbados' Sexual Offences Actof 1992 addresses spousal rape as follows:

(4) A husband commits the offence of rape where he has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent by force or fear where there is in existence in relation to them

  1. a decree nisi of divorce;
  2. a separation order within the meaning of section 2 of the Family Law Act
  3. a separation agreement; or
  4. an order for the husband not to molest his wife or have sexual intercourse with her.

(5) A husband who commits the offence of rape is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life. (Barbados 1992, Sec. 3)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Barbados needs to adopt "more effective" legislation to combat domestic and sexual violence (UN 5 Apr. 2012). The SAVE chairperson similarly expressed the opinion that the legislation is "outdated" (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012).

2.2 Protection Orders

According to the SAVE chairperson, applications for protection orders are made at the magistrate court (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). She explained that the process is not "difficult" and usually takes approximately three business days (ibid. 18 Oct. 2012). The alleged abuser is first served with the court papers and then both parties explain their side of the story to the magistrate (ibid.). According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, the court "often" issued protection orders and has the power to sentence an offender to jail for disobeying such an order (US 24 May 2012, 8). However, the SAVE chairperson said that the protection orders do not usually come with an arrest clause, and that the abuser is usually given a warning for breaching a protection order (SAVE 18 Oct. 2012). However, she also noted that in some cases the perpetrator is punished for breaching a protection order with imprisonment for a few months (ibid.). The same source noted that the protection orders are usually valid for 12 months (ibid. 11 Oct. 2012). Sources indicate that the Act does not allow for protection orders to be issued in cases of "'visiting'" relationships in which couples are dating, but not married (The Barbados Advocate 31 Oct. 2010) or living together (CADRES [2009], 8, 18). The CADRES report explains that there "is considerable evidence of domestic violence occurring outside the more conventional 'live-in' scenarios" (ibid.).

2.3 Police

The 2009 CADRES report states that the police response to domestic violence is "notoriously poor," noting that both male and female victims are sometimes "ridiculed" by officers who often do not take complaints of domestic violence seriously (CADRES [2009], 9, 29). In addition, CADRES reports that the police are not trained in handling domestic violence and do not keep relevant statistics, making it difficult to track the case history of repeat victims (ibid., 29). According to the CADRES survey, cases of domestic violence were reported to the police in 35 percent of cases, not reported in 54 percent, and it was unknown in 10 percent of cases (ibid., 75).

The Chairperson of the SAVE Foundation stated that approximately 90 percent of the victims who called their 24-hour hotline complained about the lack of assistance by the police (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). She claimed that the police often advise couples experiencing domestic violence to "work things out" on their own (ibid.).

According to the 2010 UNDP survey, approximately 32 percent of all survey respondents in Barbados perceived the police as having good or very good performance in controlling domestic violence throughout the country (UN 2012, 107). In addition, approximately 38 percent of female victims and 30 percent of male victims who reported incidents of domestic violence to the police in Barbados indicated that the police treated them respectfully or very respectfully (ibid., 105).

3. Support Services
3.1 Shelters

Barbados reportedly has one NGO-operated shelter that receives some government funding and provides counselling to victims (US 24 May 2012, 8; SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). Country Reports 2011 states that the shelter accommodates up to 20 women and their children (US 24 May 2012, 8), while the SAVE chairperson said it consists of around 4 to 5 rooms for women and their children, with the exception of boys over the age of 14 years who are not allowed to stay in the shelter (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). The SAVE chairperson indicated that the shelter offers relief for a 3-week period (ibid.). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. The SAVE chairperson expressed the opinion that the one shelter is not adequate to service the needs of domestic violence victims throughout Barbados (ibid.).

3.2 Counselling

Sources indicate that counselling for victims of domestic violence is offered by both public (US 24 May 2012, 8; Barbados n.d.a) and private agencies (US 24 May 2012, 8; UN 2 Aug. 2009a; SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). According to their website, the Family Services Division of the Welfare Department at the Ministry of Social Care and Constituency Empowerment offers counselling to victims of domestic violence as a provision for recipients of protection orders, but the counselling is available to victims regardless of whether there is a protection order in force (Barbados n.d.a). The counsellors also provide the court with a report in cases in which the protection order is due to expire in a month (ibid.). The SAVE chairperson states that the Welfare Department offers "tangible help" to victims of domestic violence, but also expressed the opinion that the assistance is "usually not enough" (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012).

The Royal Barbados Police Force website indicates that the police operate a Victim Support Programme to provide counselling to people who have suffered from traumatic crimes, including domestic violence (Barbados n.d.b). Although other sources mention this program as a support service for victims of violence (UN 2 Aug. 2009b; US 24 May 2012, 8), the SAVE chairperson believed that the program was no longer operating and was not aware of anyone who attended it (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012).

A crisis centre operated by the Business and Professional Women's Club provides counselling (US 24 May 2012, 8; UN 2 Aug. 2009a), as well as legal and medical referrals (US 24 May 2012, 8). Respondents to the CADRES survey described the work of the crisis centre as "commendable" but also faulted the response of NGOs to domestic violence, in general, as inadequate (CADRES [2009], 45).

3.3 Telephone Hotlines

SAVE operates a 24-hour telephone hotline (SAVE 11 Oct. 2012). This national hotline was reportedly launched in February 2010 as a joint project between SAVE and the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports, and Youth (M2 PressWire 11 Oct. 2010). The hotline received over 1,000 calls between February and October of 2011, approximately 5-6 calls per day (ibid.). Counsellors servicing the phone lines refer victims to other service agencies, such as the National Housing Corporation, the Welfare Department, and Community Legal Services, or provided in-house counselling (ibid.).

3.4 Legal Aid

According to the Barbados Bar Association (BBA), legal aid is available for people of "'insufficient means'" to have free legal representation in a variety of cases, including rape and "[a]ll family matters with the exception of divorce" (BBA n.d.). Further information on legal aid for victims of domestic violence in Barbados could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

3.5 Public Awareness

The Bureau of Gender Affairs has reportedly offered workshops and panel discussions to educate the public about domestic violence (Barbados 16 Sept. 2008, para. 48-49). Sources indicate that programs to raise awareness of domestic violence have been given to high school students (US 24 May 2012, 8; Nation 19 May 2010; Barbados 16 Sept. 2008, para. 49), clergy and hairdressers (US 24 May 2012, 8).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Barbados. 16 September 2008. National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 15 (A) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1. Barbados. [Accessed 4 Oct. 2012]

_____. 1992. Sexual Offences Act. [Accessed 5 Nov. 2012]

_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Social Care and Constituency Empowerment. "Services." [Accessed 16 Oct. 2012]

_____. N.d.b. Royal Barbados Police Force. "Victims Support." [Accessed 5 Oct. 2012]

The Barbados Advocate. 31 October 2010. Tanya Lightbourne. "Upgrade Domestic Violence Act." [Accessed 16 Oct. 2012]

Barbados Bar Association (BBA). N.d. "Frequently Asked Questions." [Accessed 5 Nov. 2012]

Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES). [2009]. Domestic Violence in Barbados: Report on a National Study Designed to Determine the Prevalence and Characteristics of Domestic Violence in Barbados. [Accessed 4 Oct. 2012]

Freedom House. 2012. "Barbados." Freedom in the World 2012. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2012]

M2 PressWire. 11 October 2010. "Barbados Government: Over 1000 Calls to Domestic Violence Hotline in Seven Months." (Factiva)

Nation. 30 March 2011. "Domestic Violence Severe in Barbados." [Accessed 26 Sept. 2012]

_____. 19 May 2010. Anesta Henry. "Wednesday Woman: Voice for Battered Women." [Accessed 16 Oct. 2012]

Service Alliance for Violent Encounters (SAVE) Foundation. 18 October 2012. Correspondence from the Chairperson to the Research Directorate.

_____. 11 October 2012. Correspondence from the Chairperson to the Research Directorate.

United Nations (UN). 5 April 2012. News Service. "UN Rights Chief Urges Barbados to Address Domestic Violence and Discrimination." [Accessed 4 Oct. 2012]

_____. 2012. UN Development Programme (UNDP). Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2012]

_____. 2 August 2009a. The UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women. "‘Crisis Centre' Operated by the Business and Professional Women's Club of Barbados." [Accessed 4 Oct. 2012]

_____. 2 August 2009b. The UN Secretary-General's Database on Violence Against Women. "Victim Support Group." [Accessed 4 Oct. 2012]

United States (US). 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Barbados." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. [Accessed 5 Oct. 2012]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful: Royal Barbados Police Force; Bureau of Gender Affairs, Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth.

Internet sites, including: The Advocates for Human Rights; Amnesty International; Association for Women's Rights in Development; Barbados — Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth, Barbados Supreme Court;; Factiva; Human Rights Watch; Organization of American States — Inter-American Commission of Women; PeaceWomen; UN — Refworld, Women Watch; World Organization Against Torture.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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