Universal Children’s Day was celebrated on November 20th 2018 without much fanfare. It came and went rather unremarkably, there were no speeches or press releases on behalf of Government of Belize (GOB). Neither were there any deep and reflective pronouncements from the Special Envoy for Women and Children. On a whole it was a day like any other, except for children who are victims of abuse every day in Belize. Recent figures put reported child abuse cases at around six thousand in the last five years alone, the average then would be about 4 cases each day. It is generally accepted that the majority of cases go unreported that in fact for every case reported two are not. This would put actual figures around 12 cases total per day.
The apathy of the present GOB in regards to Violence against Children is nothing new. In 2015 researchers received funding from PAHO/WHO and UNICEF to research and review the national health sector efforts in prevention and response to violence against children in Latin America and Caribbean countries. Health sector guidelines were received from 22 of 43 countries. Unsurprisingly, Belize was among those countries that chose not to participate. Some of the findings of this review are interesting indeed as it characterizes Violence against Children as a global health crisis with negative impacts as well as costly expenditures. Child abuse in its many forms negatively affect educational development and future labor productivity and can cause disability, decreased quality of life and even premature death. It has more immediate and direct costs such as medical treatment and costs that must be borne by the judicial system and its institutions. There are direct costs to welfare and foster care as well as costs associated with apprehension and prosecution of offenders. Our health professionals and public health protocols are instrumental in the multi sectorial collaboration which must take place to ensure that survivors of abuse can access protection, treatment and the care they need.
According to the last available Health Statistics of Belize 2006-2010 compiled by the Epidemiology Unit of Belize in section XVIII entitled Domestic Violence, it was reported that for children from birth to eighteen years of age there were one hundred and five reported cases in 2006. In 2007 there were ninety five reports, in 2008 however, there were three hundred and twenty three cases of domestic violence and of those eleven involved children under the age of one year. In 2009 there were two hundred seventy nine cases which involved minors under eighteen and of those fifteen were younger than a year. In 2010 there were two hundred and eighty reported instances of domestic violence of those five involved children under the age of one. More must be done to protect our children.
Belize was the fifth country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Unfortunately nothing much has changed since then. Teenage pregnancy has continued to rise, the recent string of kidnappings, rape and sexual assaults, disappearances, and murder of our children remain unsolved and unpunished. Our health system needs to be revamped in order to be able to handle and refer these cases. Our police department needs to be trained and sensitized to deal with the cases in a respectful, efficient and effective manner. We do not need any more pretty speeches and empty promises. Superficial and shallow representation on international forums, will no longer cut it. Our children at home continue to suffer in silence because those who should will not speak for them!