Committee on the Rights
of the Child 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.
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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