A 10-year-old boy and his mother were reunited after spending a month apart. Love News has been following the story of the young child who was taken away from his mother after entering Belize via the western border with a man who could not prove his relation to the child. Even though the mother had given consent for the man to take the child across the border via a letter, the child was still flagged as a possible case of human trafficking because the documentation was not properly done. According to the mother, Damaris Avilez, the child goes to school in Guatemala and travels back and forth with a family friend. With help of Human Rights Defender, Elisa Castellanos, after a battle with the Department of Human Services, Avilez was able to regain custody of her child.
Elisa Castellanos – Human Rights Defender: “There are a few things that have happened from then to now. These are the things that we want to focus on: one we are torn because we want to say thank you to the department, to Immigration, to TIPS, to the Belize Police Department Tips Unit and to the Tips council because there is the will, there is the commitment to protect children from human trafficking. For that these people deserve a tremendous round of applause, however I think also in the pursuit of protecting one potential group of victims we cannot create victims so there needs to be due process. We can say that we are all in agreement that this is not a trafficking case. The mother is cooperating with the department and the department is cooperating with us as the advocacy agency. We are trying to bring this to a close, we know that the child is going to be reunited today with the mom. We had a meeting which was a very productive meeting with the department. We ended on a good note because the Department really and truly sat down with us, we sat down, we dialogue. Of course, it is not always a smooth and nice chat but at the end of the day it is civil, it is professional because at the end of the day we have a common enemy which are the people who are hurting children and people who are exploiting children, that is the common enemy. The child is ten but he is a bright ten, in his heart just like my purpose in life is to be a human rights defender, well this child his dream for himself is that he wants to be a singer. In Belize, we do not have music programs that are focused for school and you know in Guatemala he gets that and in addition to that this family has a religious expression of a particular denomination and so all of these things factor into why this child is crossing the border. He is having a CD recorded soon, I think June 19th is the date so really and truly is not that the mother doesn’t appreciate Belize or doesn’t appreciate the school system from Belize, it has nothing to do with that. The child has a desire to be very specific in his pursuit of his own happiness and he is a bright child so the mother allowed him autonomy in deciding if he wanted to study there or if he wanted to play guitar or drums and how to control his voice.”
Castellanos said that now they are aware of the proper procedures necessary for the child to continue going to school in Guatemala without being flagged again. Love News was there for the reunion between Avilez and her son, and she told us how she feels about having him back.
Damaris Avilez – Mother: “I was so happy at first because it has been a long time I have been without him. First of all, I am thankful to God because this is a really hard process. We have cried, we have fast, we don’t sleep well at night because he wasn’t with us. I know they are trying to do their job but what I can say in this case. They should try to do better because the way they approached it to us when we went to San Ignacio the first time was terrible. We wanted information from him, they didn’t want to give us any information and the way they approached us, the way they didn’t have any communication with me. At the time they held him at the border, I didn’t know about that, I didn’t know the process until they already handed him over to Social Services and I don’t think it is right because as the mother I am to be the first one to know. I as the mother; it hurts a lot that they can take away your child and you cannot see him. It put me in a situation that I said but why are they taking so long? They said it was human trafficking but now they did all their investigation, it took almost a month and they are investigating something that they will never find because it was not human trafficking. I need to do another process so he can go back to Guatemala. We had all our documents because they asked for it at immigration, we had all those documents because of them but we are going to do another process so that he can travel back and forth and study in Guatemala without a problem. It is not because he is my son, he is a very smart child, he loves to sing, he goes to church and praises God. I am happy about that and he says that is his dream, he wants to sing. The 19th of this month they are going to burn a disc that he is to sing on. That is his dream, I cannot say you are not going to do that. I am going to help him to do whatever he wants to do.
Avilez’s son was taken away from her on May 9. He was put into foster care during that time.////////////////