Last Updated 16 October 2020

A sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles, Barbados is a parliamentary democracy of around 287,000 population, predominantly Christian (76%). Other religious groups, together constituting less than 3 percent of the population, include Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha’is. Approximately 21 percent of respondents do not identify a religious affiliation.1

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

While the government is in practice highly secular, symbolic trappings of state religion remain. The preamble to the Constitution proclaims that the people of Barbados “acknowledge the supremacy of God” along with “the dignity of the human person, their unshakeable faith in fundamental human rights and freedoms and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions.”

The Constitution2 and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.

Specifically, Article 19 enshrines the freedom of conscience, which includes “includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Barbados has no state religion. The Parliament of Barbados passed the Anglican Church Act in 1969,3http:// which disestablished and removed state funding from the Church of England, following independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.

There is no requirement for religious groups to register with the government, but they must do so if they wish to seek tax relief.4

Education and children’s rights

Article 19 (4) states that “[e]xcept with his own consent (or, if he is a person who has not attained the age of twenty-one years, the consent of his guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion which is not his own. ”

Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, “[e]very religious community shall be entitled, at its own expense, to establish and maintain places of education and to manage any place of education which it wholly maintains.” As such, religious private schools in Barbados provide ‘religious instruction’ and benefit from government funding only to the extent that they admit pupils who cannot find places in public schools.

Religious education in state-run schools is generally of a high quality and happens as part of the statutory curriculum on ‘Values Education’. Primary school pupils are required to learn about Christianity, while secondary school pupils must learn about all world religions.5

In 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted with concern the lack of age-appropriate and comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including on responsible sexual behaviour, as well as the lack of family planning services and the high level of unmet contraception needs among women and girls.6

Family, community and society

Religious discrimination

Anecdotally, negative attitudes towards non-religious people are found at large in Barbadian society, particularly among the older generations. In 2016, the Catholic Bishop of Barbados released a statement expressing alarm over” a generation growing up in households where they have no reference to God and then we find that atheism is completely normal.”7 In 2009, a government minister expressed dismay at Barbados becoming “an increasingly more secular country” and claimed this would lead to social “disintegration and decay.”8

Rastafarian groups have argued for religious exemptions to Barbados’ laws on marijuana and vaccinations, but these demands have not been heeded by the Government.9

Employment rights

In 2020, the Mia Mottley-led government brought in the Employment (Prevention of Discrimination) Act, which explicitly forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, marital status and domestic partnership status, among other grounds.

Reproductive rights and women’s rights

Since 1983, abortion has been legal subject in Barbados with the approval of 2-3 physicians, provided it is to preserve a woman’s physical or mental health. The legislation is largely patterned on the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act and is interpreted permissively.

In 2014, Barbados was reported to have one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region, reflecting the success of its abortion law.10”Barbados, Haiti reduce maternal mortality”. BBC Monitoring Americas. May 7, 2014. ProQuest 1521320123. According to the World Bank, in 2015 Barbados recorded one maternal death, and had a ratio of 27 deaths per 100,000 live births.11

Domestic violence against women is considered to be relatively common in Barbados. As part of its 2018 Universal Periodic review at the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland, Italy, and Netherlands urged Barbados to take legislative action on and provide support to NGOs combating gender-based violence.

Public health

According to the US Report on International Religious Freedom, the Government of Barbados makes vaccinations mandatory for all school-age pupils.12

A 2001 Government-commissioned report found Barbados’ harsh laws against homosexuality were blighting Barbados’ ability to respond effectively to the HIV/AIDs pandemic.

LGBTQ+ rights

Barbados has a poor LGBT rights record, but there are hopes that under the government of new Prime Minister Mia Mottley, this picture will begin to improve, and the government has slowly begun work on addressing discrimination faced by LGBT couples in some instances.

Despite harsh criminal laws still in place for LGBT Barbadians, Barbadians tend to pride themselves on being more tolerant of LGBT people than many neighbouring islands. Bridgetown, the capital, held its first gay pride event in 2018, attended by 120 people,13 and a ‘pro-LGBT’ Prime Minister was elected that year.14Cassell, Heather (30 May 2018). “Barbados elects pro-LGBT female prime minister”. The Bay Area Reporter. A 2016 poll by CADRES found that 67% of Barbadians described themselves as ‘tolerant’ of LGBT people with 82% of the public opposing discrimination against gay people.15“Barbados MP: Accept the existence of gay relationships”. 3 February 2016.

Same-sex couples cannot legally adopt in Barbados and surrogacy is illegal for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. However, no law forbids lesbian couples from receiving IVF treatment or receiving artificial insemination to become pregnant.16ralph (17 November 2017). “SINGLE AND SAME SEX COUPLES FERTILITY OPTIONS”. Barbados Fertility Centre.

Buggery law

Anti-sodomy or ‘buggery’ laws, inherited from the British Empire, were never repealed in Barbados, making homosexuality illegal, with a possible punishment of life imprisonment. In practice the law is not enforced, but it has led to a number of other issues, including an historic lack of anti-discrimination laws and hate crime protections, which mean that LGBT people in Barbados can feel relatively unsafe to live openly or show affection to their partners in public.

In 2001, then-Attorney General Mia Mottley commissioned a study of HIV infection rates in Barbados, which concluded it was crucial for Barbados to repeal its anti-sodomy laws to address the public health impact of HIV/AIDS. However, public opinion and opposition in Parliament prevented further action. In 2018 however, Mia Mottley became Prime Minister with an historic 100% of seats in Parliament, stoking hopes among LGBT rights activists that she may decriminalise homosexuality.17

Commentators have suggested that forthcoming legislation on same-sex unions announced in 2020 could be used to repeal Barbados’ anti-sodomy laws.18

Hate crime

Anecdotally, hate crimes motivated by homophobia are relatively commonplace but (also owing to the buggery law) there are no official statistics recording violence against LGBT people. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice on Barbados advises LGBT travellers that ‘public displays of affection may attract unwanted and negative attention’ in Barbados and throughout the Caribbean.19

In 2011, the Government of Barbados was investigating claims of gay Barbadians seeking refugee status in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States because of domestic persecution. Over 300 gay Barbadians were reported as seeking refugee status abroad in 2016.20“Gays leaving Barbados for Canada”. Stabroek News. 26 September 2016.

There are numerous case studies in the media of attacks on gay and trans activists, including a high-profile case in 2018 concerning an attack on a trans activist with a meat cleaver.

Same-sex marriage

There is currently no statutory recognition of same-sex relationships in Barbados.

In 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in a case relating to Costa Rica set a binding precedent for courts in Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Barbados, to recognise same-sex marriage on human rights grounds as signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights.

In 2020, the Government of Barbados faced criticism after a new work visa programme allowed foreign workers to bring their opposite-sex spouses only. In response, the Government revised the scheme to permit same-sex spouses as well.

In 2020, the Governor General of Barbados announced that the Government would be bringing forward legislation on same-sex civil unions, as well as a binding referendum on marriage rights for same-sex couples, in recognition of citizens’ equal rights and a concern about Barbados “increasingly finding itself on international lists… which identify the country as having a poor human rights record.”21

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is generally respected, and the media is free of censorship and government control. Access to the internet is not restricted.

Notwithstanding this, Barbados has strict laws forbidding people of any age, other than Barbadian military, from wearing camouflage.22

Blasphemy law

‘Blasphemy’ remains a crime in the forms of laws against ‘blasphemous libel’. These laws originated in English common law and later become part of the Barbadian statute.

The law is unenforced.


1, 4, 5
9, 12
10 ”Barbados, Haiti reduce maternal mortality”. BBC Monitoring Americas. May 7, 2014. ProQuest 1521320123.
14 Cassell, Heather (30 May 2018). “Barbados elects pro-LGBT female prime minister”. The Bay Area Reporter.
15 “Barbados MP: Accept the existence of gay relationships”. 3 February 2016.
16 ralph (17 November 2017). “SINGLE AND SAME SEX COUPLES FERTILITY OPTIONS”. Barbados Fertility Centre.
17, 21
19, 22
20 “Gays leaving Barbados for Canada”. Stabroek News. 26 September 2016.

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