Is Belize a better place for children today? Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 04 December 2014 00:00

It was some 25 years ago that countries all over the world made a promise to children to do everything in their power to protect and promote the rights of children to survive and thrive, to learn and grow, to make their voices heard and to reach their full potential. Over the last two and a half decades, 192 countries have signed on the to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and it has been recognized as the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.  

As Belize and countries all over the globe celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Convention, it is most appropriate to reflect and analyze where Belize has come from and where the country is going in relation to children’s rights.  Belize is definitely a better place for children today than 25 years ago but while there is much to celebrate, there is still much more to do. 

The government has demonstrated that it understands the link between investing in children and children’s rights, and development.  The government has made a concerted effort to spend more in those areas that provide better living conditions and opportunities for children. Since 2008 when this administration took over the reigns of government, the budget for the Ministry of Human Development has tripled as the government translates policies into actions via the budget.  The majority has been investments in social safety programs. As concrete examples, one can point to the conditional cash transfer program, BOOST and the food pantry programs in particular.  From BOOST, already there are good results in education.  The attendance rates in school hVE improved. It is inspiring to note that among the top achievers in the PSE this year were children who are BOOST recipients. And 170 plus fourth formers who graduated this year were BOOST recipient.  These are not just statistics.  Behind every statistic there is a person, a child.

Similarly, there are positive impacts on nutrition from the Food Pantry program because it provides a more balanced meal.  Coming out of a small focus group to review this program, some persons from Belize City have commented that they have never had vegetables as part of their diets and only now they do because vegetable is part of the food package in the pantry program. 

This government has also strengthened the legal framework for child protection. We have witnessed the abolition of corporal punishment, a first in the Caribbean region, and saw the passage of the Criminal Code amendment that dealt with sexual abuse and assault of children.  Both of these legislative changes met with some resistance but were able to be passed with the determination of the government to protect the rights of children.  We have also seen the passage of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Prohibition Act and the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Act.

There have also been significant changes to the Education Act that addresses the quality of education for children and strengthens the rights of children.  The largest portion of the annual budget is spent on education.  Such an investment has a tremendous impact on children across the nation but allocating resources is not enough.  The society needs to ensure quality execution. 

The Secondary school quality financing reform, for example, is about access, about ensuring that the resources are equally and equitably allocated. The human development ministries are using a targeting mechanism to see how government can support children of poor households in meeting the cost of education.  Some of these initiatives are groundbreaking in our region and it is not an easy road for government to walk as it tries to balance the needs of all stakeholders.  Many of these issues in education have been talked about for over two decades and for the first time they are really getting done.

The Maternal and child health program continues to be recognized in the region in terms of the quality and coverage.  There was zero maternal deaths in 2011 and 2013.  Recognizing that the figures on malnutrition are highest in the southern districts, the Ministry of Health has embarked on a program in the south that is addressing nutrition in children and families through education and targeted interventions.

For the first time in the history of any administration, has the government actually taken out a loan to improve the juvenile justice system. This is a loan from the IDB for the $10 million Community Action for Public Safety or CAPS program. The government is also borrowing $10 million for the Youth and Community Transformation Project that has a component that is looking at prevention for children at risk coming in conflict with the law.

The world is changing rapidly when it comes to information and communications technology.  The government has not lost sight of the importance of providing access to ICT to our children so they can grow, compete and excel in this new world.  The government is actively working to expand internet access to everyone across this country through the now nationalized Belize Telemedia Limited.  Children must be able to access the tools that they need to become productive citizens.

The above examples are just a sample of the current programs being implemented to provide a safer and better environment for children to thrive and achieve their full potential. There is A lot already being done but more work has to be done to keep up with the changing needs and challenges of a growing and youthful population.