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An archipelago nation of more than 700 islands, the Bahamas covers 100,000 square miles along the edge of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The islands gained their independence from the British in 1973 but remains part of the Commonwealth, though proposed reforms to create a presidential democracy have been a persistent feature of national politics. The State has been widely criticised for its policies towards, and treatment of, Haitian refugees in recent years, as well as for the pervasiveness of child labour within the country and the inadequacy of the juvenile justice system.
The Bahamas is an archipelago nation of 700 islands, covering 100,000 square miles from the south-east of Florida to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The capital city is Nassau, and is located on the island of New Providence, which is home to two-thirds of the country's population.
Population and Language
The country has a population of around 350,000 people, a figure that has risen steadily over the last 30 years, and continues to rise at an annual rate of between 1.25 and 1.5 per cent. Of this population, 85 per cent are of African descent, 12 per cent European descent and 3 per cent are of Asian or Hispanic ethnicity.
English is the dominant language on the islands, though Creole is spoken amongst Haitian groups.
History and Politics
The Bahamas were first discovered by Europeans on Christopher Columbus' 1492 exploration of the western hemisphere. The native Lucayan populations were subsequently enslaved by Spanish slave traders and died out within 25 years. English and Bermudan religious refugees colonised the islands in 1647, which became a British Crown Colony in 1717. The move towards independence gathered in pace during the 1960s, when the islands achieved internal self-government, and built towards full independence within the Commonwealth in July 1973 under the leadership of Sir Lynden Pindling. Prime Minister Pindling retained the office until 1992 when his party fell into decline amid allegations of corruption.
Current Prime Minister, Hubert Ingraham of the Free National Movement (FNM) has been a dominant figure in Bahamian politics over the last two decades. Mr. Ingraham was first elected Prime Minister in 1992 ,and served two terms in the office until 2002, when the opposition Progressive Liberal Party won a landslide victory under the leadership of Perry Christie. Mr. Ingraham was returned to power in 2007, however following elections that gave the FNM a majority in the parliament.
As a Commonwealth State, Queen Elizabeth II is the titular head of state, though she is represented by Governor-General Arthur D. Hanna, who has held the office since 2006. A Constitutional Commission was launched in 2002 and delivered its preliminary report in 2006, in which it recommended that the Constitution be reformed to provide for a Presidential Democracy. To date, however, no such change has been implemented.
The global financial crisis of 2009 had a severe impact on the two major economic activities of the Bahamas, tourism and the off-shore finance industry, which account for 40 and 20 per cent of economic activity respectively. Nevertheless, the country was rated third in the Caribbean in terms of human development ranking and reported a gross national income per capita in excess of US$20,000 in 2009, a figure that placed the country between South Korea and Portugal. Despite this apparent wealth, development varies throughout the country such that the less populated islands offer a lower standard of living and, often, only basic infrastructure. The Country is a member of the Caribbean Community single market, but the majority of its export trade is with the European Union (57.6 per cent), while the U.S. Is its single largest source of imports (25.7 per cent).
Media and Civil Society
The government of the Bahamas operates a radio networks and the islands' only TV station, alongside a small number of private radio stations. Multichannel cable TV is widely available.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
The Bahamas has been criticised for its policies towards, and treatment of, Haitian refugees and migrants in recent years. In 2010, Amnesty International reported on the gap between the State's declared policy of suspending repatriations alongside its deportation practices. With respect to children's rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised particular concerns over the prevalence of child labour in the country as well as the inadequacy of the juvenile justice system. Corporal punishment of children also remains lawful in the home, in schools and potentially within the judicial system. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as child rights activists have called on the State to explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children. The country also has one of the highest HIV and AIDS rates in the Caribbean (3.1 per cent).
- The Guardian, "Obituary: Sir Lynden Pindling" 28 August 2000
- The Bahamas Constitutional Review Commission, "Preliminary Report and Provisional Recommendations 2006"
- The Economist, "Caribbean economies: Lonely beaches" 29 Jan 2009
- BBC Caribbean, "Offshore centres lose business"
- The World Bank, "Data: GNI per capita"
- European union, "Country Strategy Paper 2008-13"
- Amnesty International, "World Report 2011: Bahamas"
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the initial report of the Bahamas, March 2005
- End Corporal Punishment Now, "Bahamas Country Report"
- The World Health Organisation, "Progress report 2011: Global HIV/AIDS response" 30 November 2011
- OHCHR, "Bahamas Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Bahamas Country Profile"
- BBC, "Bahamas Country Profile" 13 October 2011 and news items (see footnotes)
- The World Bank, "Bahamas Country Data"
- European Union, "Bahamas Country Strategy Paper 2008-2013"
- The Guardian (see footnotes)
- The Economist (see footnotes)