Jamaica has pioneered in social welfare in the West Indies since 1938. Successful community development programs, which draw on local sources of leadership and use self-help methods, have long been in operation throughout the country. The Jamaica Social Welfare Commission, founded in 1937, is one of the most important voluntary agencies; it receives support from government and industry.
Government assistance is provided to those in need, and rehabilitation grants and family allowances are made. A National Insurance Scheme (NIS) came into effect in April 1966, providing benefits in the form of old age and disability health and maternity coverage, pensions, workers' compensation, widows' and widowers' pensions, and grants. The program is financed by contributions from employers and employees. Employers are required by law to provide 12 weeks maternity leave at 66.6% of pay. Social security provides for partial reimbursement of maternity benefits to some exporters whose labor force is 75% female.
Jamaican women are guaranteed full equality under the constitution and the Employment Act, but cultural traditions, economic discrimination, and workplace sexual harassment prevent them from achieving it. Women participate actively in politics. The domestic violence law provides for restraining orders and other measures to combat spousal abuses. Children's rights are protected by the 1951 Juvenile Act which sets restrictions on the employment of minors and provides for the protective care of abused children. A lack of resources, however, prevents this law from being applied fully.
While Jamaica's human rights record has improved in recent years, serious abuses continue to occur. A major problem is lack of police accountability for human rights violations. Prison conditions are poor, but are open to inspection by international human rights organizations. Crime is a serious social problem. The murder rate nearly equals that of New York, a city with three times the population of Jamaica.