A democratic country, classified as “free” by Freedom House, Barbados allows its people freedom to express themselves. The news media, absent of any governmental censorship and control, can and openly criticizes the government. The leading newspapers, the Barbados Advocate, and The Nation, are privately controlled. There are four privately owned radio stations, as well as two governmentally operated ones. Even though the government owns the sole national television station, the channel provides a full spectrum of political views. Teenagers also have access to the internet, and of the 267,000 citizens of Barbados, 56% use the internet. Their internet service providers are restricted, however, and all service providers must be owned and operated by companies of Barbados. For instance, the Barbados government prohibits the use of AOL. What’s more, the Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, even called for the regulation of internet blogs. “[Blogs] will marginalise our existence as parliaments and will cause disrespect, not just for the rule of law, but for the institutions that are required to keep our societies safe,” Mottley commented. As of 2002, 85.6% of the population had a telephone mainline or cell-phone subscription.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government also respects this right in practice. Even still, most of the citizens are Christians. Indeed, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Whit Monday, and Christmas are all celebrated as national holidays. According to the U.S. State Department, “The number of non-Christians was small. There were an estimated 2,700 Muslims, most of whom were immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Indian state of Gujarat. A few immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad, South Asia, and the Middle East, as well as approximately 200 Barbadians, comprised the rest of the growing Muslim community. There were three mosques and an Islamic center. Other minority religious groups included Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and members of the Baha’i Faith.” The nation’s policy towards religious education represents the nation’s broader policy towards religion. “Religious instruction is included in the public school curriculum as ‘values education’,” the U.S. State Department comments. “The focus is on Christianity, but representatives from minority religious groups are also invited to speak to students.” Among more specific religious groups, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventist, and Muslim communities have complained about experiencing occasional criticism for their beliefs and practices, but also believed that on balance, society was very tolerant of them. Rastafarians have cited the largest number of intolerance problems, noting widespread discrimination against their members in terms of hiring and schools. For instance, conflicts have arisen over the Rastafarians’ ability to smoke marijuana, as integral to their faith, and over the government’s teaching of principles that conflict with those held by the Rastafarians.
The government also allows its citizens freedom in other ways of life. The government does not enforce any particular dress code.
In Barbados the youth literacy rate is 99.8%. 95.3% of youths reach 5th grade, which is comprised of a larger percentage of girls than of boys.Education is compulsory and free for 12 years – from the age of 5 until the age of 16. However, this task is made easier on the government considering that Barbados has only around 49,000 children to educate. The education is formed by a mix of public, semi-private, and private schools, all of which are free. There are coeducational as well as single sex schools. There exist around 174,000 library books in Barbados, which falls below the global weighted average of 5,147,047 library books. Still, Barbados spends 7.6% of its GDP on education, which places it at the 14th highest rate of 132 countries. In fact, primary schools witness a 15:1 pupil: teacher ratio.
Government Granted “Rights of Age”
The voting age is 18. To drink alcohol legally, one must be 18. Those aged 10-17, however, are allowed to consume alcohol if they are with a parent. Conscription does not exist at any age in Barbados. The age of consentual sex is 16 for heterosexual couples. Teens under the age of 16 must solicit their parents’ consent in order to have an abortion.
Health, Sexuality, and Dating Habits
Barbados has not yet created laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals. In fact, among homosexual couples, both male-male and female-female, sex is strictly prohibited. Barbados allows birth control and abortion for a variety of purposes. It permits abortion to save the life of the woman, to preserve physical heatlh, to preserve mental health, in the case of rape, incest or foetal impairment, and for economic or social reasons. Abortions are not, however, available on request.
The government provides direct support for contraceptive use, yet teenage pregnancy rates are high, with 40% of pregnancies occurring in women under age 20.
For the general population, dating generally starts in the early teens. Public Displays of Affection are rare. It is not uncommon for couples to have kids and live their lives together while not getting married.
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