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NCFC and UNICEF: Child Marriages and Unions becoming an epidemic among Belizean children

In an effort to end the vast majority of child marriages and early unions occurring in Belize, several organizations such as the National Committee of Families and Children (NCFC), the Technical Working Group for Child Protection (CPTWG), UNICEF, UNFPA and the CAMY fund partnered to spearhead  the first workshop of its kind in Central and Latin America which is geared towards analyzing and discussing the numerous driving forces behind these unions, as well as speaking on the various consequences of such occurrences and developing strategies to alleviate the prevalent issue. Margaret Nicholas, Executive Director for NCFC spoke about the widespread issue of child marriages and early unions in Belize

Margaret Nicholas Executive Director NCFC:We have been doing research and we have been paying attention to what is happening in our country particularly in our adolescence and our children and we realize that it’s is not only a cultural problem but it is an overall problem and so we have no other choice other than to jump into it and see how is it that we can deal with it before it really and truly gets out of order. What we know for sure based on the 2016 mixery it really and truly sparzzled the problem and the issues with teen mothers, children in early marriages and unions. The old gammoth of problems that is associated with it and the fact that a lot of these marriages seems to be forced and a lot of these young girls in particular seem to be married to men who are 10 or more years older than them and so what we are trying to do is really get down to the bottom of this and to really understand the problem and understand what are the problems and what are the drivers? Who are conducting these marriages? Because at the end of the day that is some of the things that we need to know. Who actually are conducting these marriages? Given the fact that we know that children of this age should not be married.”

Shelly Abdool, who is the Regional Gender Advisor in the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean also spoke on UNICEF’s behalf and discusses some of the reasons as to why these unions are occurring.

Shelly Abdool Unicef’s Regional Gender Advisor for Latin America and Caribbean: “Our goal in this joint is to really provide options and services to be able to prevent further and child marriages and unions as well as address those adolescent girls that are currently living in situation of early either early motherhood or early unions to ensure that they have right services. Currently in the region we have higher numbers than most people think in terms of child marriage and early marriage unions. We have the third, we occupy the third position in the world behind Sub Saharan Africa and Asia. If we; not just in Belize and in the region but we know that if we don’t make difference now and we don’t start acting now we will end up in 2030 as the region with the second highest prevalence in the world. Belize fits into, the region has a range of between 10 to over 30% in terms of numbers of women that were married before the age of 15 or 18 and Belize currently sits at the higher end with 33% of women age 20 to 24 that report having been married before the age of 18 so this is a priority for the region, it’s is priority for Belize. We are very happy that Belize is taking the leadership in English Caribbean on this and we are hoping Belize will spur these discussions at a National level in other English speaking Caribbean countries. The causes and the consequences of early child marriage and early union’s is it’s a two way relationship meaning that sometimes it’s a cause and sometimes it’s what happens after a marriage or an early union occurs and basically there are for factors that have been identified at a regional level and that includes early pregnancy for adolescent girls, gender and sex based violence, secondary school either transitioning to secondary school or completing secondary school and gender inequality so how do we perceive of opportunities of possibilities for boys and girls. All four of these work together, underlying those four factors our causes and consequences include household poverty area of residence, we see higher cases in rural areas than in Urban areas and the existence of laws and policies that protect girls and boys from  situations of violence.”