CRC 38th session: Committee considers second report of Belize



UNITED NATIONS
Press Release
17 January 2005


The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic
report of Belize on that country's efforts to implement the provisions of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report was Sylvia Flores, Minister of Human Development of Belize,
who said Belize had made significant progress in placing children and adolescents
at the centre of development, thereby safeguarding their rights. Belize had taken
many steps since its last report in keeping with its national and international
commitments to create an enabling environment for the holistic development of
children and the fulfilment of their rights.

Ms. Flores said the issue of poverty continued to be of grave concern to the
Government of Belize, especially its pronounced impact on children and their well
being. The Government recognized that poverty and its attendant issues robbed a
child of his or her right to optimum survival and development. Belize had placed
great emphasis on the elimination of poverty through the development and
implementation of a national poverty elimination strategy and action plan.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sheddi, who served
as Rapporteur for the report of Belize, expressed his thanks to the delegation for
the fruitful discussion that had taken place. The delegation had expressed its good
will which raised the hopes that the obstacles faced by the State party would be
resolved. At the end of the session, the Committee would issue its recommendations
requesting the State party, among other things, to widely disseminate these
recommendations to both adults and children and to implement them for the interest
of Belize's children.

Hatem Kotrane, the Committee Expert who also served as country Rapporteur, said the
day had been enriched by the information provided by the delegation of Belize. The
Committee now had a better view of the situation of children in Belize. Through its
legislative reforms, the Government was on the right path and the laws should be
followed by efforts to change people's behaviour towards children.

Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions pertaining
to child labour, poverty, infant and maternal mortality rates, education and health
care, HIV/AIDS, birth registration, corporal punishment, pregnancy and the
expulsion of pregnant teenagers from schools, and the high illiteracy rate.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and
recommendations on the report of Belize towards the end of its three-week session,
which will conclude on 28 January.

The delegation of Belize was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Human
Development and the National Committee for Families and Children.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Belize is obliged to present
periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of
the treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and
to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes in public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 January, it is
scheduled to take up the initial report of the Bahamas CRC/C/8/Add.50.



Report of Belize

The second periodic report of Belize, found in document CRC/C/65/Add.29, reaffirms
the Government's ongoing and strong commitment to respect and ensure observance
with the intentions, provisions and obligations of the Convention on the Rights of
the Child. The Government has undertaken a number of further reforms and
improvements in the legislative, administrative, policy and service frameworks in
support of the enhancement of the rights of children and the quality of and access
to accompanying programmes and assistance. At the national level, the Government
has taken significant steps to strengthen the central legislative and
administrative base to advance the rights of the child. The Families and Children
Act 1998 establishes the major legal framework in that regard.

The report says Belize continues to suffer from inadequate data collection by
various Government agencies and consequently problems in collecting core
statistical indicators. For all the progress that Belize has made since its initial
report, there remain a number of areas where children continue to suffer from poor
access to services, inadequate assistance and persistent disadvantages.

Hurricane Iris of October 2001 devastated large areas of the southern districts of
Belize, where people suffered the most. An estimated 10,000 children were left
homeless by Iris in that year. When Hurricane Iris hit, Belize was still in the
process of reconstruction efforts following the effects of Hurricane Keith in 2000.
Belize has faced four hurricanes in six years.




Presentation of Report

SYLVIA FLORES, Minister of Human Development of Belize, said Belize had made
significant progress in placing children and adolescents at the centre of
development, thereby safeguarding their rights. Belize had taken many steps since
its last report in keeping with its national and international commitments to
create an enabling environment for the holistic development of children and the
fulfilment of their rights.

Ms. Flores said a National Plan of Action 2004-2015 had been put in place
comprising of six main areas of attention: health, education, child protection, the
family, HIV/AIDS and culture. The Plan would guide Belize's policies and actions
for children and adolescents over the next decade.

The issue of poverty continued to be of grave concern to the Government of Belize,
especially its pronounced impact on children and their well being, the Minister
said. The Government recognized that poverty and its attendant issues robbed a
child of his or her right to optimum survival and development. The Government had
placed great emphasis on the elimination of poverty through the development and
implementation of a national poverty elimination strategy and action plan.

The plan reflected the Millennium Development Goals and prioritized interventions
in the areas of health, education, sustainable livelihoods and strengthening the
social safety net, Ms. Flores said. The expressed commitments by the Prime Minister
not to balance the budget "on the backs of children" during times of austerity
guaranteed adequate budgetary allocations for the social sector.

Ms. Flores said recent years had seen a number of initiatives to improve health
care provisions in the country, primarily through the Health Care Reform Project.
In the last three years, that project had resulted in the establishment of public
health centres and private clinics, as well as a pilot National Health Insurance
Scheme. Belize had recently won the first ever Caribbean regional award for
immunization coverage.

The Ministry of Education was spearheading a comprehensive education reform project
designed to make education in Belize more affordable, accessible, gender sensitive
and relevant, Ms. Flores said. The approach being used in the reform process was
one of participation, communication and social mobilization aimed at securing
national consensus and ownership of the outcome.

Ms. Flores said her country considered the protection of children as paramount;
therefore, it had been working consistently for over a decade on legal and
institutional reforms. Since 1993, there had been a paradigm shift that enabled and
improved the level and quality of care and attention given to children in need of
protection. The Government would do its utmost to safeguard the rights of its
children and to ensure that they were afforded the best possible environment in
which they could grow, develop and realize their fullest potential.




Questions by Committee Experts

IBRAHIM ABDUL AZIZ AL-SHEDDI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur
for the report of Belize, said the Committee appreciated what Belize was doing in
order to ensure that the rights of children were upheld. Among other steps, it had
ratified a number of treaties related to children's rights. The Government had also
implemented many of the Committee's recommendations made following its
consideration of Belize's initial report.

Monitoring of children's issues and complaints seemed to be a problem in the
country, Mr. Al-Sheddi said. How did the monitoring system of children's complaints
function outside the capital? The Government had shown good cooperation with non-
governmental organizations (NGOs). Did the Government intend to increase its
support to NGOs dealing with children's rights?

Mr. Al-Sheddi said Belize should make more efforts to disseminate the Convention
after translating it into some of its many languages. Had the Government translated
the Convention into any languages other than English?

KAMEL KOTRANE, the Committee Expert who also served as country Rapporteur for the
report of Belize, noted that a number of positive measures had been taken to
strengthen the rights of children in Belize. He asked whether the Ombudsman was
competent to receive children's complaints on maltreatment or other abuses. Did
professionals, such as judges, receive training on how to implement the Convention?

The age of criminal responsibility of nine years was very low, Mr. Kotrane said.
The minimum ages of marriage, which were 14 for girls and 16 for boys, were also
low. Children were allowed to do "part time jobs", according to the report, but
what was the age limit and were there conditions on the kind of work that they were
allowed to perform?

Another Expert asked if customary laws were applicable with regard to children's
rights in addition to the laws adopted by parliament. It was reported that there
were problems of discrimination on different grounds, including against girls; what
legislative measures were taken to tackle this problem? Corporal punishment of
children and the flogging of persons in prisons were reported to be common in the
country; were there efforts to change this situation?

Referring to the problem of hurricanes that hit the country several times, an
Expert asked about the preventive measures to protect children who were the most
vulnerable and who had been victims of these disasters in the past. What
legislative measures were taken to help children with disabilities? Belize had
ratified a number of international and regional instruments; however, the
implementation aspect should also be given a high priority.

Other Experts also raised questions on the use of corporal punishment as a
traditional way of punishment; family integration having a negative impact on
children; child poverty; budget allocation for services in child education and
health; discrimination against pregnant students; application of life imprisonment
against children; domestic violence; displaced and undocumented children;
diminishing of parental authority; high rate of illiteracy; regional disparity in
education; low number of trained teachers; informal adoption of children;
incarceration of poor children who failed to pay fines; institutionalization of
incorrigible children; accessibility of education by all children; the problem of
teenage pregnancy and the issue of "sugar daddies"; the expulsion of pregnant girls
from schools; the low rate of breastfeeding; the kidnapping of children on their
way to school; payment of maintenance by fathers residing outside the country;
children being absent from school and the running away of girls from their homes;
and protecting girls from acts of prostitution.




Response by Delegation of Belize

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was used as an umbrella reference
document in all actions pertaining to children's rights, the delegation of Belize
said. The National Committee for Families and Children continued to serve as the
primary mechanism to coordinate and monitor efforts to implement the Convention in
the country. A series of legislative measures had been taken to strengthen the
protection of child rights. A number of departments and institutions had also been
set up with the aim of implementing the provisions of the Convention. The
Ministries of Education, Health and Human Development comprised most of the social
sector spending by the Government and they were the key ministries that contributed
to the implementation of the Convention. Most of the budget of the Ministry of
Human Development focused on programmes that addressed the concerns of children.

Belize had done a lot of work in the field of coordination and reform with the view
to fully implementing the Convention, the delegation said. Since its initial
report, Belize had markedly strengthened its national coordinating framework. The
Convention was taken as a roadmap in designing children's codes and the adoption of
legislation.

The Government was planning to raise the age of marriage from 14 to 16 in tandem
with the age of sexual consent, the delegation said. The age of criminal
responsibility would also be increased from 9 to 12.

Responding to the concern expressed by the Expert on corporal punishment, the
delegation said that many parents had expressed their wish that corporal punishment
be maintained both in the family and schools. All governmental institutions,
however, did not inflict physical punishment. The Government had attempted to
educate parents on corporal punishment and provided other options for them to
discipline their children. In many cases, teachers did not respect the regulation
not to beat children. There was a strong feeling that parents should be the
watchdogs to monitor that their children were not beaten in schools.

A number of children crossed the boarder daily into the county to attend school
without even knowing that they were in Belize, the delegation said. From Guatemala
alone, there were 600 children with their uniforms crossing the boarder to attend
schools in Belize. All children found in Belize enjoyed the right to education and
to health.

Belize was collaborating with UNICEF to deal with the issue of registration of
births and to establish data in other areas, the delegation said. So far,
consultative methods and information provided by reliable sources were used to deal
with children's rights.

Since Belize was a multi-cultural society, a number of initiatives had been taken
to open up communications with all major groups, the delegation said. The
Government had carried out a dialogue with parents from different cultural
backgrounds on issues pertaining to child labour, early marriage and health
matters.

The powerful presence of the Church in the society sometimes had a backlash effect
because of the power it exercised against some State measures, the delegation said.
The Church had the right to hire and fire teachers recruited by the Government
because it ran many of the schools; thus, the Government was not fully in control
of the educational system due to the traditional influence of the Church. So far
the relationship between the State and the Church was delicate.

The Government had made efforts to eliminate discrimination against children born
out of wedlock, the delegation said. A law had been designed to deal with the
problem, and a campaign of awareness raising had been carried out. Further measures
had also been taken to collect maintenance from fathers residing inside and outside
the country.

The Government was trying to minimize the number of children being sent to
institutions and prisons by pushing for the idea of alternative options, the
delegation said. As part of the options, the Government emphasized community
services and other rehabilitation methods for juvenile delinquents.

Control systems had been set in many places for HIV/AIDS in the country, the
delegation said. The service was available to everyone, including immigrants.
Children with the disease were normally kept with their family.

A number of non-governmental organizations were working with children with
disabilities in collaboration with the Government, the delegation said. Measures
were also taken to fulfil the needs of such children in schools and in the family.
The Government took the major responsibility in taking care of children with
disabilities, both those affected mentally and physically. A draft policy on
children with disabilities had been developed and was being reviewed. It was
expected to be ready for presentation to parliament by the end of 2005.

Traditionally, children who needed protection were placed in families who
volunteered to take them, the delegation said. This situation had reduced the
number of children intended for placement in institutions. By doing so, the
Government was not discouraging formal adoptions of children, nationally or
internationally.

The rate of school dropouts was less than 1 per cent, the delegation said. However,
the completion rate of primary school was only 35 per cent. Although the duration
of primary school was 8 years, many children repeated classes.

The curfew was proclaimed for children to protect them from being abducted, the
delegation said. After the curfew started at 8 o'clock in the evening, children
were not allowed to be in the street. Unaccompanied children were returned to their
families and their parents were charged with neglect after the first warning. The
purpose of the curfew was to ensure that parents took their responsibilities
seriously.

Some parents perpetuated the "sugar daddy" syndrome (with young girls going out
with older men in exchange of financial benefits), the delegation. The older men
provided financial resources to the girls in return for sexual privileges with the
connivance of the girls' parents who received part of the benefits.

Asked about sexual tourism, the delegation said it was a new phenomenon that the
Government was endeavouring to stop in order to protect its children. Already,
measures had been put in place against the increased involvement of children in
acts of prostitution.

Responding to a question on child labour, the delegation said 6 per cent of
children in Belize were victims of child labour. Children as low as 12 years of age
were working. The Government was now making efforts to raise awareness on child
labour, and to make parents all over the country conscious of the issue. In areas
where child labour was prevalent, such as in the Toledo district which was
dominated by the Maya ethnic group, the Government was using targeted campaigns
against child labour.




Preliminary Remarks

IBRAHIM ABDUL AZIZ AL-SHEDDI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur
for the report of Belize, thanked the members of the delegation for the useful
discussion. The Experts had learned a lot about the situation in Belize and the
delegation had provided a lot of information about the children in the country. The
delegation also recognized the obstacles facing Belize in the implementation of the
provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The delegation had
expressed its good will, which raised hopes that the obstacles would be resolved.
At the end of its session, the Committee would issue its recommendations requesting
the State party, among other things, to widely disseminate the recommendations to
both adults and children; and to implement the recommendations for the interest of
the children. The Government's national plan of action for the next decade was an
initiative which would ensure the strengthening of the rights of children; however
it needed resources to ensure its realization.

HATEM KOTRANE, the Committee Expert who also served as country Rapporteur, said the
day had been enriched with information provided by the delegation of Belize. The
Committee now had a better view of children in the country. Through its legislative
reform, the Government was on the right path and the laws should be followed by
efforts to change people's behaviour towards children. Although Belize was small, a
large percentage of its population was made up of children. The Government should
increase budget allocations for children, and should eliminate corporal punishment.



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