As we mentioned earlier, immediately following the news of the attack on the seventeen-month-old child on Thursday, a number of organizations, especially those who advocate for the protection of children and children’s rights issued statements condemning the crime. Among them is the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF which stated that violence against children is unacceptable. The organization goes even further to state what the situation of crime against children in Belize has been like in the last year. It states, quote, “According to the Belize Police Department’s Joint Intelligence Coordinating Center, there were 55 reported cases of sexual crimes against children in 2017, nearly 250 shooting incidents and 142 murders,” end of quote. According to the UNICEF, this situation forces children to live with the growing fear that they are not safe and also caused significant trauma. UNICEF calls on the Belizean community to do more for Belizean children. The National Committee for Families and Children-NCFC also condemned the crime against the child calling it “truly outrageous”. The NCFC further states that the incident has highlighted the need for more action. There is a need to strengthen the Child Protection System which includes the Police Investigation Branch, improved mechanisms for forensic testing that will help strengthen prosecution against perpetrators to ensure more convictions, to better equip health facilities. Margaret Nicholas, Executive Director of the NCFC says while some mechanisms are in place and continue to be strengthened, there are gaps that need to be addressed.
Margaret Nicholas – Executive Director, NCFC
“We have just recently developed a five year strategy plan to try to end violence against children and one of the focus of that plan is to strengthen and fill some of the gaps because while we have all the services in place which makes up the Child Protection Services such as Human Development, the Police so on and so forth- we are cognizant of the fact that there are some gaps that need to be filled in terms of personnel, in terms of resources and in terms of modus operandi on a whole and how we do things and how quickly we respond. So the strategy is to work along with partners, government and NGO partners to see how quickly, if within that time span or before, that we will be able to alleviate some of these problems and help to make the systems work better and respond better to these child protection issues.”
The NCFC also adds that recent data from the Belize Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2015 indicate that children below the age of five experience the most severe forms of violence against them.
Margaret Nicholas – Executive Director, NCFC
“I think all of us should be severely worried about the fact that our most vulnerable are being violated and this is several forms of violence and why it worries us even more and it should worry all of us is because a lot of these violent acts are perpetrated in the homes against our young children, children who are unable to speak, who are unable to express themselves and who are just subjected to this kind of treatment; whether it is physical, verbal, sexual or whatever the abuses might be and when our surveys are giving us figures like that it causes for grave concern because if we seriously look at these children, this is in their formative years, this is in the years when they should be developing to be able to go into the next stage of their life and if that stage of their life is one that is full of violence and negative behavior how is it that they are going to move into their other stage of life without some kind of condemnation. So it is important that during these formative years of their lives that they are able to develop fully and help them to move and process to the next stage of their lives so it is important.”
The NCFC is also finalizing a parenting manual noting the importance of teaching parenting classes in a more standardized manner and to cover all areas of parenting. The NCFC is hoping to launch this manual in May this year. Also joining in the call to end violence against children is the Empower Yourself Belize Movement, EBYM, an organization that champions issues addressing vulnerable populations in Belize. The organization condemns the violence against children, citing recent shooting incidents where children have been injured. EBYM states that the government should realize that violence against children quote, “has a direct relationship upon a society’s social and economic development,” end of quote.