Before independence, social welfare was handled largely by private agencies and companies in the islands. The plantation corporations were responsible for the social welfare of their laborers. Missionary endeavors associated with the Catholic Church also played a part in fostering community well-being. After independence, the government assumed these roles. A national social security system was initially set up in 1979, and was amended in 1990. Old age, disability, and survivorship benefits are paid to all employed persons. There are also sickness and maternity benefits, worker's compensation, and a voluntary program for the self-employed. Retirement is set at age 62 for men and age 57 for women.
Women enjoy constitutional equality with men, and some have been government ministers, but in general they are limited to a subordinate role by the traditional culture. Female literacy is much lower than that of men, and women are underrepresented in the professions. Traditional views inhibit women from seeking redress for domestic abuse and violence.
Human rights were generally well respected, although the country suffers from an inefficient judicial system and harsh prison conditions.