There have been two recent incidents involving minors who were sexually abused by adults. There was the child in southern Belize who alleges that she was molested by her stepfather and then there was the 13-year-old girl who was raped by four men. These are only two of several reported and unreported cases where children are being abused. While we understand that the police are conducting their investigations into these two incidents, we spoke with Ivan Yerovi of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to get their response on the cases where children are being violated.
” I’ve heard some voices against these two cases that you referred but I wish to have a 100,000 against this case. We have some voices saying this is totally unacceptable, zero tolerance to this case, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 12 year old, a 13 year old, or a 14 year old giving consent, it’s rape. At the end of the day it is a case that needs to go to the courts and whomever committed a crime should go to jail, no more impunity. If someone that sexually abused a girl and walks away without having anything happen to him what is the message that we are sending? “Go ahead, do it again, nothing is going to happen to you. You can do it again. You can be the uncle, the step father, the grandfather, the friend, the cousin, nothing is going to happen to you so the only way to send a strong and straightforward message is if you are going to commit a crime, if you are going to sexually abuse a girl or a boy there is a rule of law that is going to go against you and most probably you are going to jail for that because it is a crime. It is a crime. Don’t give me that “I’ve seen this post saying that this 13 year old said yes so because she said yes that it was her fault.” No way. I heard someone say that because they dress in mini skirts and shorts so they are exposing themselves and they are guilty. That is totally crazy. So how can we change the mentality, how can we change the country in those issues that are affecting children. We need to work on a daily basis, there is no other way, we have to put PSAs on the news and we have to do events and we have to advocate for these issues until we have people recognizing that these are not normal cases from one side and from the other side having a system to respond to these cases.”
According to UNICEF’s Country Representative, Ivan Yerovi, while they do not deal directly with cases of child abuse, they are working with the various agencies that cater for children ensuring that the rights of children are being respected and they are protected in various forms.
“UNICEF is always trying to make sure there is a system in place. We don’t deal with specific cases but we want to make sure there is a system to respond to any case. Having said that we are currently working for instance with Chief Justices in the Supreme Court, because we want to make sure the Supreme Court and the entire judiciary will respect children’s rights, treat them the way they deserve to be treated and also the possibility of having what we like to call child friendly courts. So for us it’s working with the national institutions to deal with not only those two cases that you mentioned but with all the cases so if we manage to provide support and somehow make sure that there is a system in place those two cases that you mentioned along with 484 cases because if I look at the statistics since January to October 2015 we had 436 reported cases of sexual abuse in Belize, that is more than one girl/boy being raped in this country, more than one per day so there must be a system in place.”
Yerovi went on to speak on changing the mind set of persons in the country who deem the corporal punishment of children and the abuse of children are the norm in society.
” Unfortunately people think that it’s kind of normal to use violent discipline. Children, this is a survey we conducted last year, 70% of the children we interviewed said that it’s normal to be punched, because that is the only way to make them be good citizens in the future so children also agreed on being disciplined by using corporal punishment and those kinds of measures. So can you imagine the challenge we have ahead of us because if we are dealing with these beliefs it’s huge, the work that we need to do to change the mentality is huge because sexual abuse, violent discipline, verbal abuse those are not normal situations. In a society those are not normal kinds of things so we have to first of all work with the entire country to change the mentality and say that these are not normal ways of dealing with issues because violence cannot be the way we solve a dispute. Violence cannot be the way so changing the mentality and making sure that people start discussing these issues and having these issues on the table to be discussed at the household level, at the community level, in the cities, in the towns, at the school just to bring this topic into the discussion that is one of the important things we need to do.”
Incidentally, a release came out of the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC) in relation to the recent incidents of abuse against two girls. The release made reference to the fact that Belize was the fifth signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which has since been ratified and evolved into the human rights instrument in the world. The release reads, in part, quote, “One of the obligations to our children is to protect them from all forms of exploitation, abuse and neglect. Article 19 of the CRC states that, “Children should be protected from being hurt and mistreated in body or mind”. Keeping this in mind, the recent article, “Girl, 13, said “yes” to 4 men” published in the Amandala newspaper is beyond startling and heart breaking. According to the article, “Two of four men have been arrested and charged with unlawful sexual intercourse and harm after they engaged a 13 year old girl in sex.” NCFC finds this extremely troubling and is deeply concerned about the welfare of children in general; especially since THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD IS KEY. In addition, the headline in this article breaches the professional ethics for responsible journalism and serves to re-victimize the child rather than discouraging and deterring such hideous act. Therefore, NCFC advises all media personnel to be careful when reporting or sensitizing the general public regarding any issue involving children. “End of quote. The document went on to state, quote, “On another notion, these sexual perpetrators ought to know that any young girl under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activities of any sort and that any sexual intercourse with these minors can be considered statutory rape. NCFC therefore call on all parents to be extremely vigilant especially since sexual acts against minors are becoming quite common lately. As parents we need to be mindful that we are the first line of defense and are to ensure the safety and protection of our children as well as provide a safe dwelling place.” End of quote. As a bit of advice for parents and guardians, the NCFC appealed in its release that families take time to listen and talk to their children about safety while making every effort to provide a safe and healthy environment for the children.