Last Updated 13 October 2022

A sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles, Barbados is a parliamentary democracy with an estimated population of 269,809 at the end of 2021. According to the Barbados Statistical Service, the population is shrinking with the death rate continuously exceeding the birth rate since 2016.1 The population is predominantly Christian (76%), with other religious groups together constituting less than 3% of the population, including Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha’is. Approximately 21% of the population do not identify a religious affiliation.2

In November 2021, Barbados adopted a republican form of government. There is a non-executive head of state who is appointed by parliament.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

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 Constitution3 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 “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 1969,4http:// 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.5 However notably, the Sacramental Cannabis Act6 requires Rastafarians to have a registered place of worship to use cannabis, during their religious practices.

The Constitution is in the process of being reformed, with the engagement of the public at large and Non-Governmental Organizations.

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 falls under 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.7

In 2017, 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.8

Family, community and society

Religious discrimination

Several measures discriminatory against religious minority groups were addressed over the course of 2020. In November 2020, the government decriminalized cultivation, personal use, and possession of small amounts of marijuana for religious reasons, a step that was welcomed by Rastafarian community leaders. In October 2020, the government approved an exemption for Muslims and Rastafarians to wear head coverings in official photographs.9

However, anecdotally, negative attitudes towards non-religious people are found at large in Barbadian society, particularly among the older generations.

During the process of Barbados becoming a Republic, the wider public and Non-Governmental Organizations were asked to submit recommendations for a new Charter10 that would inform the new Constitution. The President of Humanists Barbados, Maachelle Farley, called for a sharp shift away from centuries of religious principles and dogma characteristic of colonialism as the country prepares to transition from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Parliamentary Republic. Among the suggestions made by Humanists Barbados was the removal of all references to God in the local law books, the removal of blasphemy as an offense and the removal of all forms of prayer in public schools. She said “Barbados has a secular Government and is home to diverse religious and non-religious populations. So using the term ‘God’ is divisive as it begs the question as to which religion is being referred to.”

The assertion was met by strong feedback from religious leaders11 such as Barbados Evangelical Association (BEA) Vice President Dr Winston Clarke who noted: “Increasing secularism has been, to some extent, responsible for the decadence in our society. It is the voices of the secularists which have been loudest in relatively recent times. Secularism prevents the values which assist in the reinforcement of many of our social norms, dulls the conscience of some persons, increases a sense of hopelessness in challenging circumstances and points to the depravity of humanity.”

The Secretary of the Muslim Association of Barbados stated: “There is no need to remove any reference to God in our local law books or to remove prayers from our schools. In fact, there should be a greater thrust at bringing more spirituality into our society and anchoring citizens to faith, beliefs, and spiritual moorings.”

Humanists in Barbados were also said to be “undermining the moral fabric of the country” and “covertly operating and influencing individuals” by founder of Mount Zion’s Missions Inc Barbados, Rev Dr Lucille Baird.

Reproductive rights and women’s rights

Since 1983, abortion has been legal subject to 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.12”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.13

LGBTI+ rights

During the development process of the new Charter of Barbados, sexual and gender minorities have been given hope of having a clear, equal status in the Constitution, with the inclusion of sex, gender and sexual orientation. The section of the Charter states “All Barbadians are born free and equal in human dignity and rights regardless of Age, Race, Ethnicity, Faith, Class, Cultural and Educational Background, Ability, Sex, Gender or Sexual Orientation.”14

Despite harsh criminal laws still in place for LGBTI+ Barbadians, Barbadians tend to pride themselves on being more tolerant of LGBTI+ people than many neighboring islands. Bridgetown, the capital, held its first gay pride event in 2018, attended by 120 people,15 and a ‘pro-LGBTI+’ Prime Minister was elected that year.16Cassell, 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 LGBTI+ people with 82% of the public opposing discrimination against gay people.17“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.18ralph (17 November 2017). “SINGLE AND SAME SEX COUPLES FERTILITY OPTIONS”. Barbados Fertility Centre.

Employment rights

In July 2020, the Barbados House of Assembly passed the Employment (Protection from Discrimination) Bill, which explicitly forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, marital status and domestic partnership status, among other grounds. There was no inclusion of gender identity or gender expression, and Barbadian trans advocate Alexa D.V. Hoffmann noted that “although noble in name, this piece of legislation actually entrenched the exclusion of trans people.”19 Hoffman was terminated by a law firm for whom she worked for three years because she legally changed her name to match her gender identity. Hoffman challenged the termination by filing her case with the Employment Rights Tribunal in 2019,20 however the case has not yet been heard by the tribunal due to an extensive backlog of cases.

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 a historic lack of anti-discrimination laws and hate crime protections, which mean that LGBTI+ 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 that 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 a historic 100% of seats in Parliament, stoking hopes among LGBTI+ rights activists that she may decriminalize homosexuality.21

Commentators have suggested that forthcoming legislation on same-sex unions announced in 2020 could be used to repeal Barbados’ anti-sodomy laws.22

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 LGBTI+ people.

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 2016.23“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.24;

Same-sex marriage

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

In 2017, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion at the request of the government of Costa Rica that set a 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.25

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.”26

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.

Blasphemy law

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

The law is unenforced.

Highlighted cases

On 16 November 2021, Humanists Barbados joined fellow Humanists International Member Organizations in hosting a launch event of the 2021 Key Countries Edition of the Freedom of Thought Report. The organization’s President, Maachelle Farley, reported that Members had faced criticism and harassment as a result.27 Reflecting on the experience, Farley stated:

“All of a sudden, my character and morals were brought into question, words like “Satan”, “fool” and “devil” were used to describe us. We were referred to as “immoral godless Humanists” who were “undermining the moral fabric of our country.” Some people even said all humanists should just leave the island because Barbados was a Christian nation and we as humanists didn’t belong here; and might infect the entire nation.

Did I expect this response? Was I prepared to feel misunderstood, alienated and “non-barbadian”? Yes, to some extent I had been preparing myself, but preparation and reality are quite different. Suddenly a trip to the supermarket or bank was riddled with anxiety as I battled with the possibility of people seeing me differently as a person altogether. I felt as if my job, family relationships and friendships were in jeopardy; it was an extremely emotional testing time.

Thankfully, on the other side of vilification and trolling, there were calls from strangers who said “I am so glad you spoke out about this”, “I’ve wanted to raise these issues but I hadn’t had the courage” or “I’ve felt so alon[e] in this, how can I join the humanist community?”. I also got calls from friends with strong religious beliefs who said they were proud of my strength and bravery to step out and set such an unpopular light post on a hill. These were [people] who did not see the world the way I did, but they connected with the need for our Human Rights stance, the importance of separation of State and Religion and the importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief for everyone, not just religious persons. I also received immense support and encouragement from my local humanist community, from members of Humanists International and humanists around the world.

In all of this I was reminded that what Humanists Barbados is doing is absolutely important, and absolutely necessary for our country as we make our way forward as a new Republic. I keep asking myself what kind of Barbados I want to live in, [and] what kind of Barbados I want to leave for future generations. The answer to those questions is as crystal clear as the beautiful ocean waters I enjoy every week. The answer is simple, “A Barbados for everyone.””


2, 5, 7
12 ”Barbados, Haiti reduce maternal mortality”. BBC Monitoring Americas. May 7, 2014. ProQuest 1521320123.
16 Cassell, Heather (30 May 2018). “Barbados elects pro-LGBT female prime minister”. The Bay Area Reporter.
17 “Barbados MP: Accept the existence of gay relationships”. 3 February 2016.
18 ralph (17 November 2017). “SINGLE AND SAME SEX COUPLES FERTILITY OPTIONS”. Barbados Fertility Centre.
21, 26
23 “Gays leaving Barbados for Canada”. Stabroek News. 26 September 2016.

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