Tonight, the public is outraged over three heinous sexual crimes against children. On Tuesday, April 12, a 6-year-old girl, in the company of her mother, reported that on, April 11, her uncle took her to a bedroom and touched her inappropriately. A medical examination was conducted on the girl and the medical officer certified that the little girl was carnally known and classified the injury as Grievous Harm. Police then formally arrested and charged a 45-year-old man of Belize City with “assault a Child by Penetration” yesterday. Another disturbing case of child abuse was reported on Wednesday, by a 7-year-old female student. The little girl stated that her step-grandfather touched her inappropriately at her house on April 4. The child also told police that sometime in December 2021, the step-grandfather attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. A medical examination was conducted on the minor, and the medical doctor certified that the child was carnally known and classified the injury as Grievous Harm. Police then charged her perpetrator, a sixty-four-year-old man, with “rape of a child” and “assault of a child by penetration”. She was removed from the home by the Department of Human Services. The third instance of abuse against a minor occurred in the Orange Walk District. On Saturday, a 15-year-old female reported that from October 5 2020, she and her sister had been living with a 42-year-old Belize farmer. According to the teenager, since September 10, 2021, she had been constantly raped by the man. The police report identifies at least five times that she had been raped, with the most recent being last week Friday, April 22. On Sunday a medical examination was conducted on the minor and the medical officer certified that the minor was carnally known. On Monday police formally arrested and charged the man with seven counts of unlawful sexual intercourse. The cases are extremely troubling and are currently being investigated by the Belize Police Department with the assistance of the Ministry of Human Development and Families. Director of Human Services at the Ministry, Shawn Vargas says government officials have stepped in to assist the victims.
Shawn Vargas, Director of Human Services, Minister of Human Development: “The ministry operates about five facilities where children who are abused are housed and they are staffed with trained individuals to deal with the level of trauma that the residents experience. Family is also important throughout this process and we make efforts to engage family to help with the placement of children and where family is not possible institution is a last resort. So we look at family, we look at foster families and then we go institution, institution is a last resort for placement. But the department has a plan in place that ensures that children who are referred to us because of abuse are cared for. School is open now and the students are reporting these matters to the school and the school and teachers are mandatory reporters that’s one area incidence of sexual abuse and cases of child abuse the referral comes to the department from the school also.”
Speaking generally to Love News, Vargas says that many victims of abuse suffer mental trauma. According to Vargas, the Ministry offers victims free counselling and therapy services to assist with the healing process.
Shawn Vargas, Director of Human Services, Minister of Human Development: “The Ministry of Human Development employs counselors on a full-time basis and our clients have access to those counselors. Apart from the counselors who are appointed a full time basis by the ministry the Department of Human Services has a cadre of therapists that we have access to and I will say access 24/7 – 24 hours a day seven days a week in terms of emergency and the cadre of therapists provide the level of support that we need for our clients and abuse comes in various forms and some of the severity of the incidents that we are seeing now it’s been 21 years in practice for me and some of these matters are extremely new because things change and so the therapists we have we have well trained therapists to support the clients at the department. Personally I do believe that the penalties are too limited, it’s small and people really don’t look at these things in terms of what is going to happen to me if I do this but if we look at increasing the penalty, move away the fine and pay attention to the confinement that should that are a lot of what has been happening right now in our society.”
Statistics show that it is not unusual for children to be abused by close family members or family friends. Vargas is urging parents to listen to their children. He says that the Ministry has the authority to step in cases where parents themselves may be the perpetrators.
Shawn Vargas, Director of Human Services, Minister of Human Development: “Parents and those guardians listen to your children when they are talking about incidences of abuse and person touching them in inappropriate places because children will go to individuals that they trust and if your child has that significant level of trust and respect the child will tell you everything that’s going on and so it is important that we pay attention to that. Perpetrators are within the family, intrafamilial and extrafamilial and so we have to be careful who we have our children with when we are not available. We really need to look at that not because this person is your good friend, you have to understand things happen and so to avoid those issues you have to make sure that you look after the best care for your children. There are several matters where we don’t get the cooperation of the parent, the biological parent, but the department does not really need the cooperation of the biological parent you know, the immediate family, because the law gives us that wide scope to work outside of the parents especially when parents are perpetrators. So we work based on the Families and Children’s Act and so the law gives us that authority- gives us that social workers that authority to work outside the parents when they are being difficult with us but we always make an effort to engage the parents that’s one of our mantra we make sure once the parents are not the perpetrators we give them every effort to be a part of this process.”
Persons can report cases of abuse using the Ministry’s twenty-four hotline 1-800-PROTECT which is a toll-free number.